As a result of our questions at the U.S. Embassy on Monday, a team from USAID gave MIA a visit on Friday morning to discuss the U.S. funds that are provided as the “Foreign Assistance Strategy” to the Guatemalan government. Aware of the blatant corruption that occurs, we were curious as to what measures are taken to ensure the appropriate and responsible use of these funds by the government.
The goal of the assistance strategy, according to USAID, is “to help build and sustain democratic, well-governed states that respond to the needs of their people, reduce widespread poverty, and conduct themselves responsibly in the international system.” The main component has been the Rule of Law program, which had a five-year contract and will end this September. The program serves to seek accountability within the justice system, works with NGO’s and the public ministry and includes a budget for non-profit organizations, sports programs, and San Carlos University. However, noting the weakness of the public ministry, USAID acknowledged that this weakness is ever-prevailing and continues to facilitate impunity. Hearing this acknowledgement by USAID, and taking into account the continuously persistent injustice for women in Guatemala that we have spent the week learning about, USAID’s visit instilled little confidence among the delegates in the effectiveness of aid in dealing with femicide and violence against women.
In the afternoon, MIA visited one of Guatemala’s largest cemeteries, which is situated next to the country’s largest dump. As soon as we drove into the gates of the cemetery, our attention was diverted to a man holding two glass bottles, stumbling along the road. Yelling and mumbling to himself as he swerved from side to side, smashing the glass bottles against the lamp posts, we developed a deeper understanding of the unfortunate manifestations of the strife and angst of the country’s troublesome past.
A guide then walked us along the cliff of the cemetery, overlooking the massive dump. Even from a significant distance away, the stench was almost unbearable. We then drove to the neighborhood of slums next to it, where neighborhoods ironically named “Esperanza” (“Hope”) and “Libertad” (“Freedom”) are nestled around garbage and are accompanied by bugs, rats, and worms. These neighborhoods have neither running water nor electricity, and people breathe methane gas on a daily basis. Most children do not attend school, but rather work with their families in the dump every day to collect recyclables, usually about .70 cents worth a day.
After the walk around the neighborhood we got a tour of the Safe Passage [Camino Seguro], founded several years ago by Hanley Denning as a “reinforcement center” and essential shelter for the people occupying the neighborhood next to the dump. Relying on donations of about $2 million a year, the center contains daycare and activities for children of all ages, a library and computer center, a playground, medical office, and a women’s literacy center. While the Guatemalan government little concerns itself with developing extremely impoverished areas such as those next to the dump, it was valuable for us to be able to see at least one glimpse of light for these adults and children. Although all the people return to their own homes at night, it is essential for them – especially the children (who reportedly often suffer incest in their packed living proximities) – to get pleasant memories of love and compassion where they can.