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ruthless compassion
13 October 2003 @ 09:05 am
Being in Guatemala is really interesting on a lot of levels. Here I am in a place where indigenous culture still thrives, even alongside a lot of modern developments, where the rich rich drive a shiny Mercedes, but the majority of people don't even own a vehicle and get around by way of old school buses, where 9 of the 10 political parties on the ballot for the presidential election next month are conservative. I've not been a big fan of globalization ever since I first understood the implications of it, but here, I see examples of just how bad it is.

There's a McDonald's on the corner, and a Domino's pizza, both of which are relatively expensive, naturally enough, but lots of people still go there. I don't tend to eat a lot at either of those places in the US, anyway, but here, somehow, it seems even worse. Mass-produced food, the ingredients for which are, no doubt, imported, thereby undercutting local ranchers and other agriculture, and it's not even good for you!

As a white person, I stand out to all the locals as someone with money. And, based on the economy here, I DO have money, and quite a lot of it. The teachers at my school, who have GOOD jobs in this economy, make between $200-$400 a month. Of course, the cost of living is low low, too, so there is some balance, and most people live in houses with lots of people, so share the cost of living.

But the current trade agreement under discussion in the US, CAFTA, will make it even harder for people in Central American countries to make a living. It'll undercut local agriculture and other sectors of the economy here, while letting those of us in the US get goods from this area for even less money, since we're obviously in such dire financial straits. And, of course, the US throws its weight around already, ousts democratically elected presidents and puts in awful dictators and genocidal maniacs instead.

I'm not happy with the role the US plays in the politics of developing countries, but being here really brings it home. It's shameful, and even if I've never supported the administrations whose policies have been worst for this region, I still benefit from those policies, and my tax money was used to pay for the arms that were used to kidnap the siblings of one of my teachers here, because they spoke out about educational reform in a climate where one doesn't safely speak out about anything.

This November, in the elections here on the 9th, Rios Montt, the Guatemalan version of Adolf Hitler, will be running for president, after being approved by the constitutional court this summer. The Guatemalan Constitution states that anyone who was involved in massacres of villages, or who was president before, can't run and be president again, but Montt argued that, since he was president and ordered massacres BEFORE the new constitution was in place, it doesn't apply to him. The four judges in his pocket were enough to make a majority in the seven judge court. American money backs up Montt, too, in the form of awful people like Pat Robertson and his cronies (as if I needed another reason to dislike THAT sector of political influence).

A creation myth that's popular among the progressive left here goes:

When God created Guatemala, he put the most beautiful volcanoes there. He decided that the volcanoes were so beautiful, they needed the most pristine, sparkling, blue lakes nestled amongst them. And once there were lakes, he had to include the most breathtaking waterfalls, and where there's water, there's good harvest, so he also put some of the world's richest soil here. He put breathtaking vistas, dramatic mountains, rich land for growing all sorts of things. And the angels said to God, "But, God, you're putting all this great stuff in Guatemala. The rest of the world will be jealous! Shouldn't you spread it around more?" And God replied, "Ahh, but just wait. In Guatemala, I'm also going to start with destructive Spanish invasions, and then follow that up with centuries of brutal dictatorships."

It's a country of contradictions, here.
 
 
I'm feeling: pondery