DURATION: 53 min.
The I.M.F. has been present in Guatemala since 1984. During the past seven years, the country has displayed an impressive economic growth that many developed countries would envy. Average growth is almost as high as 4%! However, at the same time, 1 out of 2 children under the age of 5 suffers from hunger and malnutrition. This is the fifth highest rate of chronic malnutrition in the world, higher even than that in Haiti, which is by far the poorest country in the Americas. A documentary of shocking contradictions, where wonderful economic figures have nothing to do with real life.
Written, Produced & Directed by Yorgos Avgeropoulos / Director of Photography: Alexis Barzos / Production Manager: Anastasia Skoubri / Research: Manolis Filaktidis/ Editing: Yiannis Biliris, Anna Prokou / Original Music by Yiannis Paxevanis / A Small Planet production for Greek Public Television ERT © 2010 – 2011
Original shooting format: HD 720p25 / Languages: Greek, Spanish/ Subtitles: Greek, English / Available Versions: Greek, English, International
"Our wealth always led to our hunger
and fuelled the affluence of others.
In colonial and neocolonial alchemy,
gold turns, for us, into rusty metal
and food into poison”.
Eduardo Galeano- Author and philosopher
The population and size of Guatemala, in Central America, are more or less like those of Greece. Speaking in terms of macroeconomics, it is the country of a thousand wonders! It appears to be one of the most stable and developing economies in Central and South America. Inflation is very low, its currency parity is constantly stable, unemployment is below 3% and exportations are flourishing.
Already since the beginning of the ‘80s, the International Monetary Fund has been supervising the country's economic course. According to IMF representative, Fernando Delgado, "Guatemala has set a record. It presents a particularly satisfactory level of compliance and fulfillment of obligations, displaying a praiseworthy tax policy and having succeeded most satisfactorily in all levels!” During the past seven years, Guatemala has displayed an impressive economic growth which many developed countries would envy. The average reaches 4%!
However, there are two sides to each story, and additional data come to dampen this enthusiasm. “We are the Central American country with the highest levels of chronic malnutrition. Over half our population lives in conditions of poverty, on less than 2 dollars a day. There are huge inequalities and great contradictions; despite the great production of wealth and although our country produces food, 49% of our children suffer from chronic malnutrition" says Jorge Santos, coordinator of the Center for Human Rights.
Indeed, Guatemala is amongst the first countries in the world in levels of chronic childhood malnutrition. According to research that was published by UNICEF in 2009, 599 out of 1200 children which are born every day will be undernourished. Due to the malnutrition of the mother, 3 children will die on the day of their birth, 6 will decease before they close the first week of their lives, 4 before they become one month's old and 64 babies will die before turning 5 years old. Chronic childhood malnutrition is the national tragedy of Guatemala, a silent genocide being conducted underneath the numeric affluence...
“We have such high levels of malnutrition, and at the same time we have the highest concentration of wealth in all Central America. This is the situation that the IMF agreements led us to!” says angrily Jacobo Omar Jerónimo, a syndicalist of the peasant organization Plataforma Agraria.
Up to 1980, while still suffering from the bloodiest civil war in all the American continent, Guatemala remained a self-sufficient country, in the sense of food production. In 1984, the blood-thirsty dictatorship signed an agreement with the IMF, beginning a harsh economic policy which was continued by all governments without exception, military or democratic. Amidst scandals of corruption for which no one was ever punished, state companies were privatized, natural resources were sold to foreign multinationals, the state shrank, salaries and labor rights were cut back. Today, the country produces only 50% of the food it needs and imports the rest. And yet, it is estimated that, with all its land, Guatelama could produce enough to feed the whole of Central America!
In hospitals, the parents are desperately worried about their children’s lives. “The money is not enough to buy the basics for the children. You can't even buy a pound of sugar. There are days when you get desperate and distressed, because there's nothing you can do!" says Maria Leonora, and Constantina adds: "The Government sends people to weigh the children, but they never send anything for the children. They come to weigh them, they say they are undernourished, that they must gain weight. But how can they gain weight if they don't send anything? They only send people to weigh them!"
The country's Social Democrat president, Alvaro Colóm, won the 2008 elections by promising adequate nutrition for the poor. In 2009, he declared a state of emergency in an effort to find international funding and face the food crisis that the country is undergoing. During his mandate, the prices, which had already shot up, were on the rise once again, this time by 83%! Almost half the population was excluded from basic types of food.
“Historically, this is due to policies of a supposed liberation of commerce, because, in the end, it's not liberated at all. We don't even have a free Market! What we really have are endless regulations which favor big companies and harm small farmers!" claims syndicalist farmer Jerónimo. In Guatemala, 97% of agrarian production is in the hands of 3% of the population. Owning land is an unattainable dream for the biggest --and poorest-- part of the population.
This dream came true in 1954, with the Agrarian Reform led by Jacobo Arbenz. They were the years of joy and hope, the "10 Years of Spring". They began in 1944, with a popular uprising which overturned a dictatorship, led to free elections, legalized syndicates and the freedom of expression and, most importantly, set the foundations for the redistribution of the land as the only solution for the hunger that was affecting the poor.However, the dream did not last for long. When the Arbenz government began to expropriate plots of land belonging to US United Fruit Company, the United States of America organized a coup d' état aimed at overthrowing him. The regime became once again dictatorial and the land was returned to its old proprietors.
During the civil war that followed, hundreds of thousands of Mayan indigenous inhabitants were banished from their ancestral lands through slaughter as well as the unleashed privatization of the country's natural wealth. According to Human Rights Prosecutor, Sergio Morales: "The loss of land for the cultivation of basic products is what really caused the hunger in these areas". It is not by chance that the Mayan indigenous communities are the ones that suffer the most from malnutrition.
Guatemala has today become the paradise of oligopolies. 50% of wheat production is controlled by only one business group, 60% of rice production by another one, and yet another one controls 80% of corn production. No food is being cultivated in the most fertile plots of land. They are being used for the production of bananas, coffee, sugar cane, caoutchouc and biofuel, in huge plantations belonging to companies. And, as the farmers bitterly say, “Today, in Guatemala, the productive land of Polochic is being used for the African palm. The African palm produces oil which will finally end up in car tanks and not in the belly of the poor!"