The Other Americans: Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine Is Hurting Guatemala’s Poor

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The Guatemalan Ministry of Energy and Mining recently announced that gas prices would be rising due to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Guatemala is 6,717 miles from Kyiv, Ukraine, but the war is having a direct impact on Guatemalans. 

Life in Guatemala is constantly teetering on the edge of disaster. Structural inequalities have exploded during the pandemic. Poverty has run rampant. Violence has returned to levels unseen in years. And the number of people migrating from the country has reached levels never seen before, even during the country’s thirty-six-year internal armed conflict. 

Poverty in Guatemala has steadily increased in the last decade, and the quality of life has deteriorated. Migration has served as the only opportunity for many who have been abandoned by the government, and the rising cost of living has made the country unlivable for many. 

The significant rise in Guatemala’s cost of living affects everyone, and this compounds the problems caused by the pandemic, which has caused a massive spike in poverty.

“This situation will definitely increase the level of poverty in Guatemala,” Abelardo Medina, an economist with the Central American Institute for Fiscal Studies, tells The Progressive. 

“The main effect that worries me is what can be observed on the cost of transportation and the transfer of that increase in gasoline will be multiplied to the price of products,” he explains. “Already in real life prices have been going up.”

There appears to be no ceiling for gas prices in Guatemala. In a week, prices have gone from 30 Quetzales (roughly $3.89) to 35 Quetzales (roughly $4.55) per gallon in some places. 

The increasing cost of gas also affects the already high cost of public transportation that had already been increasing in Guatemala due to the government’s limited measures to control the coronavirus pandemic.

According to an investigation by Sofia Menchu for the independent media organization No Ficción, the cost of public transportation has doubled or tripled since 2020. And unfortunately, the prices are unlikely to return to their previous levels. 

“Prices in Guatemala are highly elastic,” Medina says. “The problem is that, even if it were a transitory shock, Guatemalans are going to be very impacted because of the poor functioning of the markets. Prices go up and then they are going to go down a little, but they will not return to the level that had originally been observed.”

This spike in prices has caused a crisis for the majority of the Guatemalan population. Wages remain stagnant, not even reaching the country’s minimum cost of living, and nearly 80 percent of the country works in informal labor. 

It is estimated that a Guatemalan would need to earn 3,110 Quetzales a month, or roughly $404, to support a family. Since the monthly minimum wage is sitting at 2,959 Quetzales (roughly $384) for non-agricultural labor, 2,872 Quetzales (roughly $373) for agricultural labor, and 2,704 Quetzales (roughly $351) for maquila labor, this amount seems out of reach. But most Guatemalans do not receive even the minimum wage due to their precarious jobs. 

David Mateo, a resident of the Mayan Q’anjob’al village of Nueva America in the highland municipality of Nebaj, shared with The Progressive that working on a coffee plantation, or finca, a worker can earn only forty Quetzales per day, or around $5.20, in the remote region. But often they remain in debt due to the low pay. 

“When one works on the finca, and when payday comes, it is only payment for our debts,” Mateo told The Progressive one night in February 2021. “Breakfasts and lunches are [purchased] on the finca, we buy them there. We aren’t even living day by day, we are only living to pay our debts.”

He also explained that many entrepreneurs face challenges in the local markets. Often the earnings from selling a 100-pound bag of beans for $80 can only bring around $5 dollars in profit. 

“One hundred pounds of maize or beans is expensive,” Mateo said. “And there is no profit. It all stays in the purchase [of the grains].” 

Selling staple grains in the market is a long process. It can take around four hours to reach the municipal seat of Nebaj due to the poor roads. And with the current rise in cost of transportation due to the pandemic and the rise in cost of gas, Mateo’s experiences reflect the reality that the new rise in gas prices do not only affect those who own cars. 

The significant rise in Guatemala’s cost of living affects everyone, and this compounds the problems caused by the pandemic, which has caused a massive spike in poverty.

Prior to the pandemic, the poverty rate sat at 59.3 percent. But that was in 2014, when the Guatemalan government held its last study of poverty. 

“There is no measurement [of poverty levels],” Claudia Santizo, a nutritionist with UNICEF, tells The Progressive. “If we increased in the last poverty measurement, I do not see any factor that says that it is possible that we have improved, especially with all the livelihoods lost and all the people who lost their jobs.”

The Guatemalan government has taken steps to hide the realities of the impact of poverty on the country. In 2020, the government of Alejandro Giammattei censored the publication of a study by the United Nations Development Programme’s 2020 National Human Development Report, which painted a bleak image of the country. The document, however, was later released in February 2022 through the Guatemala Leaks project, which includes Guatemalan independent media outlets No Ficción, Plaza Publica, and Agencia Ocote. 

All of these economic factors will worsen the reality in Guatemala, leading to more migration. 

“Guatemalans are migrating in a spectacular way today because there is no work,” Medina says. “And with what little work there is, it is very poorly paid.”

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Publish date : 2022-03-03 03:00:00

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Author : theamericannews

Publish date : 2024-06-09 04:03:54

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