Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Result of Civil War in Guatemala

I have been familiar with the history of Guatemala for years and continue to learn.  Each time I am in Guatemala I see results of the civil war, but it wasn't until I began visiting La Limonada that it became real to me.  There, the results of the civil war are so evident, so raw.  I realized a few days ago that despite how often I have written about Guatemala, I have never written much about the history of it, especially about the war,and what it caused.  I am not an expert by any means.  I have read and researched a lot, watched every documentary I can find on this country that I love and talked to many Guatemalans that experienced it all first hand.  Much, if not most, of this is quoted directly from Reparando, a documentary by Athentikos, that most accurately depicts what I know of Guatemala and the situations I most want to bring attention to.  Without watching the film again and going through pages of notes, I cannot remember now where their exact quotes end (and there are MANY of them) and mine begin, but I do know that their words far outnumber mine here.  Thank you, Scott Moore, for allowing me to quote you and those that helped you create Reparando here.  Most of the history and much of the information about La Limonada are exact quotes from the documentary. It is good information to know and I pray that it moves you to action.  (This documentary is a MUST SEE.  There is so much more to it than what you read here.  Please visit their website to order a copy.)


In the beginning of the 20th century, The United Fruit Company was the largest land owner and employer in Guatemala.  It produced crops that were sold in the U.S. and Europe for great profit. The company invested in shipping ports, railroads, hospitals and more, but it exaggerated the contrast between the Guatemalan wealthy and working poor.  Even then the bulk of the system relied on unskilled, underpaid workers.

In the mid 20th century, the U.S. was fighting communism around the globe and in the 1950s, that included Guatemala.  The Guatemalan democratic president promoted the Agrarian Reform Law which included redistribution of unused land from The United Fruit Company to landless Guatemalans.  Many in the U.S. government interpreted land distribution as a communist act, including the Director of the CIA that also happpend to be a board member of The United Fruit Company.  In order to fight what they believed to be communism, on June 18, 1954, the CIA flew over and dropped leaflets in Guatemala City demanding the resignation of the president.  A new president was quickly declared and reversed the land reforms forcing villagers to vacate their property.

Over the next decade, the Guatemalan government militarized as the people of Guatemala slowly mounted organized resistance in the name of democracy.

Freddy Peccerelli, the Executive Director of the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation says, "People that had no option but to take up arms decided to do so against the establishment (military government).  The response of the military was killing not only insurgents, but also communities - whoever they saw as a threat.  They started trying to take control of the areas by fighting the guerrillas, but it led to widespread massacres of thousands of people in hundreds of communities."

The conflict, a civil war, lasted 36 years.  At least 200,000 people were killed.  One million people were displaced. An entire generation lost many of their family members.  Over 450 Mayan villages were destroyed.  Farmers lost homes AND their farming traditions.  They were left without a means to survive.  People fled from violence to the city.  They had no resources, no opportunity, no food, nothing. 

That is how shanty towns were formed.  "Slums".  That is how La Limonada was formed. 

When people are left with nothing and no way to care for themselves, extreme poverty sets in quickly and violence soon follows.

La Limonada literally means "The Lemonade".  It is a part of Guatemala City that brings fear to most Guatemalans.  Once a beautiful ravine, with streams and abundant wildlife, it was destroyed by what Guatemalans call "the invasion".

In the 1950s, people migrated there when the reform law was reversed and took up camp on the sides of the ravine.  Where there were once fields and crops, became contamination and plagues.  It became one of the largest urban slums in Central America.

La Limonada is one mile long and a half mile wide.  There is an estimated population of 60,000-100,000 people living there.  It is plagued with gang culture, violence, drug abuse, sexual abuse, malnutrition and a lack of health care.  The walls of the narrow alleys are scarred with shot gun blasts and bullet holes as a visible reminder of violent gang history.

It is a result of the civil war.  Effects of the conflict are immeasurable.  A lack of security and justice is a result.  In Guatemala, 75 percent of the population lives below the poverty line.  In Guatemala City alone, more than 6000 children live on the streets.  Many of them eventually join gangs or are exploited into prostitution.  The youth do not see a way out.  Joining a gang becomes their twisted sense of hope.

Guatemala is still at war.  It is a different kind of war, but it is still a war.  And that war is being fought in La Limonada every day.  Lives continue to be lost.  Many continue to feel hopeless.  Children still suffer.  Families are still torn apart.

Simply having a La Limonada address is a red flag to potential employers and often prevents even an honest worker from getting a job.  Without education, transformation and the provision of alternatives, people are left with basic survival tactics and chaos becomes the normal.  That is what happened in La Limonada.  "Gangs are looking for places with a lot of children and this is one place with a lot of children, "says Guatemalan journalist Estuardo Zapeta.  There are over seventeen murders per day in Guatemala, making it one of the most violent countries in the world. 

Many have committed horrible crimes, but we must ask ourselves...what circumstances limited their choices in the first place?

Despite what may appear to be a hopeless situation, change is coming.  In fact, it has already arrived.  Guatemalans are stepping up to help their communities.  Two of these individuals, Tita and Shorty, are pouring their lives out for the people of Guatemala, specifically La Limonada.  And some U.S. based organizations are beginning to realize that working in partnership with those local Guatemalan ministry leaders is the only way lives will be changed long term.  Lemonade International is one of those organizations and I am happy to be a part of the team.  We partner with Vidas Plenas, Tita's Guatemala based organization, and the people of La Limonada in community development.  I can't wait to share more here about Tita and her vision, how Lemonade is working to help her in many areas of ministry including building the Community of Faith with Shorty (another Guatemalan ministry leader), schools, micro-enterprise, a safe home, vocational training and scholarships for older children that want to continue their education beyond 6th grade, and my personal thoughts and reflections along the way.

As it is stated in Reparando, "Hope is rising," and we would love for you to be a part of it.  Consider joining us.

Sponsor a childDonate just $10 per month to end malnutritionProvide a scholarshipPlan a trip to visit La LimonadaSet up a Lemonade StandSponsor a teacher.  Pray.

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