Compiled by Patricia Anderson and Santos Tale Tax
Experts and community leaders from around the world met held an International Conference on Mining in Antigua, Guatemala last week. Members of communities affected by mining gave testament to the contaminated water, desertification and general community conflict caused by mines. Pedro Pinto, of Honduras, commented: “The extraction of gold in my country has been going on for five years and has caused the death of several animals on two occasions because the cyanide used to extract the metal has contaminated the rivers.” Guatemalan delegates emphasized the importance of respecting community voices in the mining process.
On its closing day, the International Conference published a declaration detailing the ways in which mining companies enjoy impunity. The statement notes how mining companies damage the environment and the health of their workers and surrounding communities with rare regulations or sanctions from Latin American governments.
In response to the Conference, Douglas González, director of the Mining Guild, said: “In Guatemala we have no cases of environmental catastrophe due to mining; and since the technology used has advanced considerably, the impact on the environment has been mitigated. The population of Guatemala has no reason to worry.”
An outbreak of dengue in the Eastern department of Izabal has caused 170 people to be hospitalized. Ninety-two of the cases have been reported by the department as hemorrhaging dengue, all of which are children under the age of 13. However, the Ministry of Health has only reported 18 hemorrhaging cases. Hospital workers have denounced the Ministry of Health for its unwillingness to confirm all hemorrhaging cases, its lack of preventative measures and its overall poor management of the outbreak. Nine children died due to dengue last week.
The number of gripe A cases (H1N1)—Swine Flu — has risen to 624, an increase of 92 people since July 31.
In the department of Izabal, 5,197 square kilometers of virgin forests are cut down per year to make way for expanding agriculture and growing urban areas. Forty percent of the department’s lands are protected, making a portion of the deforestation illegal. The National Counsel of Protected Areas has urged vigilance, control and community education to prevent illicit deforestation.
An exceptionally dry rainy season with unseasonable frost has caused wide-spread crop damage – the estimated at crop loss totals 38,000 quetzales. These uncharacteristic weather patterns have been attributed to overall climate change. More than 16,000 families have been affected, and corn production is down 40%. Crop production is not expected to better in 2010 due to the long draughts and characteristic cold of El Niño.
Due to the long dry spell, three thousand communities are in risk of hunger and starvation. In the department of Zacapa 17 children have died this year from severe malnutrition and related diseases such as diarrhea.
The Basic Cost of Living has risen 2.8 quetzales in the last month and 18.99 quetzales in the last year. The director of the National Institute of Statistics emphasized that only 7 of the 26 crops that make up the calculation have risen, and that 17 crops have actually dropped in price. The price of onions has increased the most, 16.5 percent since 2008.
Analysts from the Association of Investigation and Social Studies say that the government of Guatemala had too small of a vision and invested too late in the economy when faced with last fall’s economic crisis. While time was being spent coming to an agreement about inversion, commerce and consumption fell by 8 percent. In relation to last year, commerce has fallen by 1.7 percent overall in Central America, compared to the 1 percent decrease in the United States.
400 women have been violently killed since the start of the year, 6 in the last week. Human rights attorney Sergio Morales says that 82 percent of the women were killed strictly because they were women. However under the current laws, only 19 can be classified and charged as femicide. 56 of the women were under the age 18. A large number of the victims were raped, tortured or dismembered.
Migration and the Economy
Remittances have fallen 9.5 percent in the first seven months of 2009, a difference of 248.2 million USD. Remittances were highest in July of this year, with 365.3 million USD entering the country. However, this number still falls sort of the 409.66 million USD seen in July 2008.
In 2008, more than 4 billion dollars were sent back to Guatemala in the form of remittances. Remittances make up 12 percent of Guatemala’s GDP and sustain at least 1 million Guatemalan households.