About this blog
Al Argueta loves Guatemala, and travels there often. This blog will update information found in his books, and also be a forum to answer reader questions about all things Guatemala.
- Dresden Codex May Yield Location of Maya Treasure
- A Room with a View
- Weekend en Guatemala
- Reflections on the 1996 Peace Accords
- New Flights to Guatemala City
- Alta Verapaz Under State of Siege
- A Very Important Message Regarding ATMs
- Antigua Guatemala Tones Down New Year's Celebration
- Pollo Campero Takes on Disney World
- Widespread Disgust at Murder of Anthropologist
- More Good Press for Guatemala
- Eight Found Guilty in Slaying of Salvadoran Diplomats
- Lake Atitlán to Host Film Festival
- Galerias La Pradera Gets a Facelift
- Former INGUAT Director Accused of Stealing $3.5 Million
Reflections on the 1996 Peace Accords
On this day 14 years ago, the Guatemalan government and URNG guerrillas signed a final accord for a "firm and lasting peace." The UN-brokered peace negotiations were the final outcome of several years of negotiations to end a 36-year civil war that left 200,000 dead and a million displaced. The accords seek to address a myriad of social issues that gave rise to Guatemala's armed movement, including indigenous rights, the role of the military, human rights, and the strengthening of civil society. The war, it should be noted, was the direct result of a U.S.-inspired coup d'etat which eliminated ten years of widespread social reforms that threatened the hegemonic dominance of U.S. multinationals and the Guatemalan oligarchy.
Although the accords have yet to be fully implemented, they have at least been partially successful in that they reduced the number of troops in Guatemala's over-sized military, resulted in historical clarification commissions to bring justice to the families of war-time victims and aided in the creation of a UN-backed investigative entity seeking to reform Guatemala's highly deficient judicial system (Cicig). At the same time, socioeconomic conditions for the average Guatemalan haven't really changed and many complain about spiraling levels of widespread violence.
A full analysis of the reasons for Guatemala's increased rates of violence is beyond the scope of this essay but the idea can certainly be postulated that 36 years of violent struggle and repression, the widespread presence of guns, persisting wealth disparities, and a psychologically scarred populace would make for such conditions. Furthermore, the signers of the peace accords could not (or did not) foresee the huge contribution of a ballooning drug trade using Guatemala as a bridge between South American producers and North American consumers. Much of the country seems at the mercy of drug cartels and some analysts have begun to question whether Guatemala may become the hemisphere's first failed state. In recent weeks, the Guatemalan government, again with help from the U.S. military, has gone so far as to declare an entire Guatemalan department under siege.
And so today Guatemala seems embroiled in a new war. This war is not being solely fought in remote mountain villages but in the busy streets of Guatemala City, and to some extent, on the streets of your neighborhood. Mexico has received its fair share of bad press over the last few months as drug-related violence in that country has kept travelers away in droves. Perhaps Guatemala has an advantage and hasn't seen any decrease in tourism figures (numbers are actually up) because travelers to this beautiful country can't seem to remember a time when it WASN'T embroiled in some sort of conflict. And lest you dismiss Guatemala's current ills by choosing another 'less-interesting' Central American destination for your vacation, you should know the U.S. State Department (according to the BBC) is also concerned about the growing power of Mexican drug cartels in Costa Rica, a country which has no military. Gasp! NOT eco-darling Costa Rica...
But I digress. What does this topic have to do with tourism in Guatemala, you ask? As any well-heeled Guatemala traveler knows, you simply cannot separate the haunting beauty of this captivating land from her painful past and precarious present. You cannot throw out the baby with the bath water.
And so today, I will join my fellow Guatemalans in celebrating the end of hostilities that brought at least some measure of peace and social justice to her long-suffering people. And I will pray* for a better future. Felicidades, Guatemala!
*"What is prayer but a wish for the events in your life to string together to form a story - something that makes some sense of events you know have meaning. And so I pray." - Douglas Coupland