Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Meanwhile, back in Guatemala

Back in Guatemala things do not look so good. The new government has made statements and taken actions that have upset and offended Maya communities -- for example, removing the four-colored flag (representing the four colors of people, the four sacred directions, the four cardinal points) from the presidential palace.

The president sparked some interested with a pronouncement that drugs should be legalized. This drew criticism from the U.S. and mixed reactions from other governments in the region. It's interesting that he proposed this, and in the U.S. I support decriminalization since so much of drug enforcement targets low-level sellers, and doesn't do much about high-level criminals. However, in Guatemala, many if not most of the criminals who run the drug trade are tied to the military, and thus to the current government. There are not a lot of street sales there (in contrast to the states or other countries where there is a fair amount of drug consumption; this is not to say that no one in Guatemala uses cocaine or heroin but most of the drugs are for the export market).  So there is not a lot of police activity going into this kind of enforcement. So decriminalizing might just result in making things easier for the higher-ups who control the production and transshipment of drugs. However, it will be very interesting to see how this debate plays out.

The political campaign focused on security, but all the candidates made pledges to retain social programs, although the new president loudly criticized the management of social programs, such as the Bolsa Solidaria (solidarity bag, a program that gave people food; not food coupons, but food) and Mi Familia Progresa, a program that gave cash payments to women with children in extremely poor families.  Not necessarily female headed households, but the payments went to mothers (regardless of marital status, I think). The needs are still there, and perhaps have increased: a recent article in the national press noted that 80% of families were in need of food assistance.

And then the statistics on violence against women and femicide continue to be alarming. The current estimate is that 650 women a year on average are killed in what are considered femicide cases (usually characterized by torture and gruesome methods of killing).

2012 marks the end of a long cycle in the Maya calendar, as everyone probably knows -- the end of a 5,125 year cycle and the start of a new one. Maya refer to this as the Oxlajuj Baqtun (the 13th baqtun -- a baqtun is a unit of time equivalent to 144,000 days).  There has been a lot of hype about this and a lot of incorrect information (this is the end of the world, etc.). Bur a more serious matter has to do with who is going to benefit from what will undoubtedly be increased tourism to the "mundo maya" (the Maya world).  In general, Maya communities benefit very little from tourism, and the major tour operators and hotels in the areas that are most visited by tourists are not owned by Maya. The government has announced that it is going to sponsor activities, concerts, who knows what else, leading up to and on the 21st of December (which is more or less when the calendar cycle ends and the new one begins). Tour operators are projecting a dramatic increase in tourism, and I imagine that places like Tikal will be jammed full of foreign visitors. Maya organizations have been discussing how to counteract what they see as the commercialization of what is a very sacred and special time, and I will, as time goes on, share some of the material I have been sent.

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