Last month, Guatemalan President Alvaro Colom declared a “state of calamity” as Guatemala experiences the worst drought in 70 years. Approximately half of the population lives below the poverty line and 50 percent of children are suffering from chronic malnutrition. But these are only the surface casualties of a vulnerable nation ravaged by 36 years of civil war, genocide and now, the encroaching drug war spilling over from the northern border with Mexico.
For some of the farmers and ranchers, just getting to the meeting in the capital of the state of Petén, Guatemala, was an ordeal. Scores of them were irritable from having traveled days – first over muddy foot trails, then by pickup truck and minibus on rutted, unpaved roads – to attend a workshop with park rangers. The residents had journeyed in the hope of slowing the government's plan to crack down on illegal land grabs, which for more than a decade had chipped away at the vast but vulnerable Maya Forest – and which were the basis of the farmers' livelihood.
Political will is scarcer than food.
In a country plagued by chronic malnutrition, government solutions keep coming up short. The real problem: poverty and income inequality.
Samuel Loewenberg narrates images from Guatemala's malnutrition clinics.
Although most of Guatemala's children have enough food to eat, many are not receiving the right kind of food. Samuel Loewenberg reports on the country's growing crisis of chronic malnutrition.
In the clean, toy-filled interior of a clinic in Chiquimula, a 9-year-old girl appears to be frowning. Her name is Domitila, and her muscles are too weak to form a smile (see webvideo). Her body is fragile: arms and legs wasted, patches of hair missing, the veins in her legs forming a black web-like pattern that shows through her delicate skin.
The little girl does not smile. She doesn't have the energy. Hopefully she will soon.
She is in a rehabilitation clinic in Jocotan, Chiquimula, a province in the far east of Guatemala, near to Honduras. Her name is Domitila, she is nine years old. Her body is emaciated, she is fragile. Patches of her hair are missing, the veins in her legs show through her skin. Her face has a perpetual look of sorrow – the muscles are too weak to change expression. Other children in her family were in similar shape, the nurse tells me.
In a country as bloody as Guatemala, the last two weeks have stood out. In the last several years, bus drivers have became targets for street gangs seeking extortion money.
I am interviewing a couple about their experience working as immigrant laborers in the U.S., I'll call them Eduardo and Anita. Eduardo has told us that after working successfully for several years in New Orleans doing construction, he was arrested by U.S. immigration officials and put in jail. It was over the Christmas holidays, he says. He was separated from his family. He starts to cry.
Thirteen years after the peace accords were signed here, violence and fear continue to be a way of life. In a country as bloody as Guatemala, the last two weeks have stood out. In the past several years bus drivers have became targets for street gangs seeking extortion money; but the thugs are not breaking the drivers' kneecaps, they are blowing their heads off. The number of bus drivers killed so far this year is up to 33.
I knew things were bad when Paulino dipped his empty plastic water bottle into a shallow, muddy swamp puddle. After attempting to sweeten the sludge with a bright orange vitamin C tablet, the middle-aged Guatemalan archaeologist smiled at his Boy Scout ingenuity.
Click on the attachment below to read the article as it appeared in Earth Island.