Amid Hunger and Violence, Indigenous Guatemalans Look for a Way Out

Indigenous Guatemalan - Action Against Hunger

Action Against Hunger is helping fight food insecurity in Guatemala through the creation of local seed banks

Earlier this year, Canadian journalist Sally Armstrong visited an Action Against Hunger project in Huehuetenango, Guatemala. Here, the Indigenous Mayan population is struggling against the combined pressures of widespread crop failure and brutal gang violence, driving thousands from their communities to seek refuge in the United States. This excerpt is from her article originally published in Broadview Magazine on Thursday, August 20th, 2020.

Andrea Jose Juarez is small for her age, but she’s not short of audacity. She’s quick to tell you that she used to be eight years old but now she’s nine — imagine that, nine years old. She’s in Grade 2 at the village school up here in the mountaintops of Guatemala. She likes to draw. In fact, she’ll draw a saucy cat in your notebook if you like while her mom, who is tending the fire nearby, watches over her intrepid daughter. Andrea is wary, though, because the last time she interacted with strangers, she wound up in an American detention centre.

Andrea is a returnee, the term used by the Guatemalan government for migrants who have been detained in the United States and deported. Two or three planeloads of them arrive most days in Guatemala City, the adults shackled to their seats, the kids on their own.

She became a statistic when she was caught in the net cast by U.S. President Donald Trump to get rid of the people he has referred to as rapists, criminals and drug dealers. While the act of separating children from adults and putting them in detention with other terrified children earned Trump global disdain, it doesn’t tell the whole story behind the migrants from the Northern Triangle — Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras — who are making a run for the U.S. border.

Andrea is one of 100,000 Guatemalans who were returned last year alone. Many come from the same mountainous region: Huehuetenango, a place in the western part of the country where ancient history and modern-day reality collide. Half a million residents are Indigenous, the famed Mayans who have been growing maize here on the rooftop of Latin America ever since the Bronze Age. Now, the dry season gets longer every year due to climate change. The crops are failing. In Guatemala, the number of people in need of urgent food assistance rose from 568,000 to 1.2 million between December 2019 and May 2020. There simply isn’t enough to eat, so Mayans are leaving a way of life that can no longer sustain them.

“Migration between Central America and the United States has been going on for decades,” says Danny Glenwright, the executive director of Action Against Hunger (AAH), an international organization that fights hunger and its root causes worldwide. “But where it was once mostly for economic reasons, it is increasingly happening because of lack of food and opportunity in places like Huehuetenango, forcing desperate people from here to take their chances elsewhere.”

Continue reading on the Broadview website.