Guatemala | MIGRANTS | HR

With Gabriela Mundo

“If structural conditions do not change, people will continue to flee, with or without coyotes”

Gabriela Mundo, International Affairs Director at the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office of Guatemala, discusses the causes that lead thousands of Guatemalans—men, women, and children—to abandon their country
in search of a better future.

Gerardo Iglesias

Illustration: Cau Gómez | CartonClub

-The fact that people are willing to brave the journey across all of Mexico to reach the United States speaks of the deplorable conditions in which they live in Guatemala…
-There are many causes behind these migrations. Social and economic inequality is brutal in Guatemala.

Seventy percent of the population earns a living in the informal economy, 50 percent of the population is poor and a large part of that percentage is living in extreme poverty. There are also very high levels of chronic malnutrition in children.

These are social and economic conditions dating back many, many years and they affect indigenous people in particular.

Moreover, the levels of violence and impunity are extremely high.

In 2006, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) was established as a response to the fact that 95 percent of all cases filed with the Public Prosecutor’s Office went unpunished.

There is also another very complex phenomenon: the maras or street gangs, which put the population in an enormously vulnerable situation.

This is all compounded by the phenomenon of climate change. Last year two major hurricanes wreaked havoc on areas where people whose livelihoods depended on subsistence family farming were left with nothing.

All of these factors push people to leave the country. Many migrants are minors whose family circumstances are very complicated and who are forced to migrate in order to survive. Some travel to reunite with their families, because they already have relatives living in the United States.

-A country that exports people…
-Exactly. We are a country that exports people because we fail to provide conditions for them to live here, but at the same time their contributions account for 13 percent of the national Gross Domestic Product, a percentage that is constantly growing.

Violence on the prowl, inside and out

-There are many documented episodes of violence that occur during the crossing, such as the mass killing of 16 Guatemalan migrants in Tamaulipas, Mexico, who were slaughtered in January of this year.
-This case, known as the Camargo massacre, which took place last January 22, is not the first of its kind.

This episode has received wide coverage in the media, but there are at least four other documented killings that are similar or worse: the murder of 72 migrants in 2010; the case of the clandestine graves of San Fernando in 2011; the Cadereyta massacre of 2012; and the Güémez massacre of 2014.

The violence that migrants have to face in Mexico is by no means new. One out of three people who emigrate dies. There are several potential causes, but the violence they face on the road is among the leading. And the Mexican state does nothing.

-How did the Guatemalan government react after the Camargo massacre and when the bodies were brought back to Guatemala?
-It declared three days of national mourning when the bodies were returned home. But that was just a few weeks ago, and the mass killing happened in January.

The president said that they would investigate the coyotes, who are the ones who smuggle the migrants across the border. But that is not the only issue. As long as racism, poverty, exclusion, and impunity continue to exist, that is, if structural conditions do not change, people will continue to flee, with or without coyotes. The government sees only what is on the surface.

The tough stances traditionally taken in the United States will not stop migration either. This is a root problem.