Guatemala | TRADE UNIONS | HR

With Carlos Luch

White flags signaling hunger

Illustration: Allan McDonald | Rel UITA

-The pandemic is exacerbating hunger, which is a structural problem in Guatemala…
-The quarantine is primarily affecting workers in the informal economy, who in Guatemala account for 60 percent of the total workforce, that is, the majority of the working population. And the pandemic is wreaking havoc among them.

With the pandemic, hunger has become more evident, but it has long been pervasive among Guatemala’s lower-income sectors. The problem has now become so bad that some homes are hanging a white flag out their windows to signal that they no longer have anything to eat.

We will have to learn to live with the pandemic, but hunger is not something you can live with. And hunger did not originate with the pandemic; it was caused by the policies implemented in the country by a string of governments that have only catered to the interests of those who put them in power: the capital-owners who run the economy.

-And out of a sense of solidarity, Stecsa is helping these families?
-That’s what we’re trying to do. Around the factory there are many people who we’ve known for years, who live mostly on the money they make from selling food to the company’s workers. Our priority has been to help these people get by.

We’re also thinking of a long-term effort, because this is not going to last just a few weeks or a couple of months. We’ll have to supply food on a more permanent basis to some of the families that need it most.

And we’re also seeing how we can help other people who have health issues and are unable to work. But we can only do so much.

-I imagine this must cause you a lot of anguish. You must feel outraged seeing those white flags.
-Of course. And much unease. However, a great number of people in the country have responded with solidarity to make up for the absence of the state. That may be the one positive thing that’s come out of all this.

-How does that popular saying go? “Only the people can save the people”?
-Guatemala is a country that has lived through many tragic events, including 36 years of civil war, but it has always survived because the people have found ways to organize.

We believe that this will not be the exception: the people, not the government, will eventually find a way out of this situation.