• Gary White

The Northern Triangle - Part 3: Guatemala

Why do Guatemalans leave their homeland? During the last half of the 20th century, the nation of Guatemala was governed by a military regime. Guerrilla insurgencies against the regime led to decades of brutal counter-insurgency measures which resulted in hundreds of thousands of deaths among the ethnic Maya people. The counter-insurgency actions have now been classified as genocide. They included massacres of mostly unarmed civilians, torture and sexual violence. In the 1980s, world trade policies were altered to allow inexpensive corn imports from the United States into Guatemala. Native corn farmers were forced into debt or financial ruin. Mayas saw this as an extension of the genocide. There were worldwide protests on their behalf, but for many poor Guatemalans, enough was enough. Few bothered to protest. Many just began to flee, striking out for new lives in other countries. In recent years, emigration has only increased. Rural people remain poor and vulnerable. Guatemala has the world’s 3rd highest rate of chronic malnutrition. The wartime culture of impunity still tacitly allows the abuse and murder of women. An average of 62 Guatemalan women are murdered each month. And even though past U.S. government policies supported oppressive Guatemalan regimes, while present U.S. policies are trying to cut off Guatemalans’ ability to cross our border legally, for many in Guatemala migration remains the ultimate strategy for survival, and the United States remains the destination of greatest hope. Legally, constitutionally, many of these immigrants are still eligible to seek asylum at our borders. And that’s what they will do.

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