Today, Guatemala continues to deal with a highly precarious social situation that places the country in the last rank in Latin America as regards human development, where the rates of violence and that relating to child malnutrition remain high.
These conditions affect almost the majority of the population which has about 17 million inhabitants. Of these, 41% are indigenous and their percentage is progressively increasing in rural areas; 30% are mestizos; 4% are white; and 11% are Creole. The indigenous people, more than the others, continue to live in a condition of poverty and marginalization, even if the conditions of the rest of the population are not so different. As noted by the United Nations, in fact, around 75% of family groups live in conditions of poverty; 60% of the population has no access to drinking water; about 44% of the population over the age of 15 are illiterate, a percentage that rises to 70% in women; while infant mortality
is around 27.8%.
Guatemala City is the capital and has 2.5 million inhabitants. Spanish is the official language of the country although, due to its diverse ethnic composition, 24 others are recognized: 22 Maya, Xinca, and Garifuna. However, even though most of these languages are spoken by a few thousand people, this linguistic diversity creates administrative problems as well as mobility opportunities. From the point of view of religion, Catholicism is professed by 75.9% of the population.
The great situation of economic and social crisis that Guatemala is forced to deal with is undoubtedly generated by the high level of internal conflict that has upset the balance of the country for many decades. In this climate, criminal gangs also find fertile ground, keeping the rate of violence high by constantly carrying out murders, armed robberies, and kidnappings for the purpose of extortion. The homicide rate, in particular, remains one of the highest in Latin America, making the country extremely insecure due to the crimes committed by the mareros.
Two of America’s most notorious gangs – Mara Salvatrucha, or MS13, and 18th Street Gang, or Barrio 18, both of which originated in migrant communities in Los Angeles in the 1980s – have a particularly strong influence in Guatemala. They are transnational groups, which recruit their soldiers from a very young age, often in elementary or middle school. For this reason, 18th Street has been renamed the army of children for whom belonging to these groups is equivalent to being part of a cohesive and protective community and which often replaces families whose parents are migrants fleeing the precarious conditions in which the country finds itself.
Furthermore, Guatemala, due to its location, is used by drug cartels as a logistics platform and transit area for drug trafficking from the south to the north of the American continent.
Despite this, Guatemala remains one of the most important economies in Central America but in the absence of a consistent inflow of public and private capital and a sound justice system capable of guaranteeing social peace, it appears very difficult to achieve ambitious results in terms of development, as well as exacerbate the inequalities of which the country stands among the highest levels in the world.
Agriculture is the dominant sector of the country’s economy, even if only 3% of the population own 2/3 of the agricultural land. The economy is heavily dependent on exports and, consequently, suffers from price volatility with all the resulting problems. The main trading partners are the United States, which absorbs 40% of national exports, the other Central American states, and also (recently) Japan and South Korea.
The agricultural sector today accounts for 12% of GDP, employs 40% of the population and concentrates mainly on the production of corn, coffee, sugar and bananas. With reference to this sector, it is important to underline that a diversification process has been under way since the early 2000s aimed at encouraging the cultivation, for example, of fruit and flowers destined for the US and European markets.
Over the years, the agri-food and textile sectors have also recorded moderate development linked exclusively to the internal market. Tourism also plays an important role but is, however, held back by the lack of infrastructure and transport. The really significant revenue item on the national budget consists of remittances from the United States, where more than one million Guatemalans work.
Guatemala also plays an active part in the integration organizations of the Central American region, in particular in the Central American Integration System (SICA) and in the Latin American Economic System (SELA). (Open Photo: 123rf.com)