I spent some of the weekend continuing to accompany organizers from the Mutual Support (GAM). Since most of the organizations were closed over the weekend I interviewed people on the street to get their take on CAFTA and the economy in general.
One major issue facing Guatemalans is internal and external displacement. The 36 year war left several million displaced, many of them fled to Mexico or the US and many came to Guatemala City. CAFTA would in the minds of many here create more displacement, particularly amongst the rural indigenous population. One of the major provisions of CAFTA is to allow US taxpayer subsidized grains, like corn, to be importanted to Guatemala. We saw what effect this had in Mexico, where thousands of small farmers had to abandon their land since the US importanted corn undercut the market. According to the Guatemalan government 3% of the population controls 65% of the land. Roughly 90% of the landed population can not make a living off of what they grow now.
Of all the Central American countries, Guatemala has the highest rural farming population, thus they would be hit harderst by CAFTA. I spoke with a woman from Chimaltenago who was selling roasted corn (photo of corn) in the Central Plaza. She used to live in a small rural community, but was
forced to leave with her family, unable to make a living from growing corn. Now she is forced to sell someone else’s corn. She told me that most weeks she barely makes enough to feed her family, which lives in one of the barrancas (shanty towns) near a garbage dump in the capital.
This woman’s story is multiplied over and over with hundreds of thousands of people forced into the informal economy – selling whatever they can to survive. The indigenous woman with her back to the camera is forced to sell these posters of pictures with puppies or cats that say things like “You are so cute.”
She felt embarrassed about what she did, but said she had no choice. Her husband was killed during the war and she has 3 girls to take care of. At night she sleeps on cardboard on the sidewalk, in the same place she sells these posters.
So who will gain from this so-called trade agreement? According to a story
today on Bloomberg.com, the winners will be companies like Proctor & Gamble and Caterpillar Inc., since one of the benefits would be to “end duties on up to 80 percent of the $15 billion in U.S. exports to the region.” I don’t doubt the people’s ability to resist these policies here in Guatemala. The more important question is what will we do in the US. Congress will be deciding how it will vote on CAFTA soon. We need to mobilize people quickly. For anyone interested in working on an anti-CAFTA campaign later this month please contact Media Mouse.