Guatemala grits its teeth – #underthemask

Guatemala grits its teeth – #underthemask

As the virus crosses the world “like a back-packer” today’s blog post concentrates on the impact of the virus in Guatemala. On the day we should have landed in Central America to look at a programme of work based on sequestering carbon and building a cycle of funds for development projects, we caught up with our partners on a zoom call. Alex Eaton works for the organisation Stoveteam. He says the news of the virus spread like wildfire:

“ About a week ago, nothing was really happening in Antigua,” he said, “except that people showed concern for Italy and China.

“But my worst fears came true, the virus travelled across the world like a backpacker.”

The first signs of the potential of the disease to disrupt life came with the announcement that Easter processions would be cancelled.

“Guatemala relies on tourism, and Semana Santa (Easter Week) is the biggest money-maker of the country.,” said Alex.

“This season’s festivities were expected to generate $50 million and bring upwards of one million tourists to the country.”

The country was confused. Waves of information were tumbling through the country, along with guidance to people.

A aeroplane had landed with tourists on board, who presented the first positive cases. The government moved quickly to close the borders to prevent the rapid spread .

Alex said the decisions came quickly and life in the country changed overnight: “On Monday: President Alejandro Giammattei made a televised press conference and said the air, sea, and land borders would be closing to limit the spread, and schools too.

“On Tuesday: we learned that non-essential businesses would be closed and public transport throughout the country would be stopped for a two-week period.

“The prohibition stated that restaurants would be closed as well, but pharmacies, grocery stores and gas stations would remain open.

“And on Wednesday, he spoke again to the national public to urge people to stay home .”

It’s a familiar story. Life continues but people are struggling.

Workers are at home and children too.

“For most Guatemalans, no work means no money – and that’s a hard reality for a third world country that already has immense poverty,” said Alex.  “No public transport means workers can’t get to their jobs and the closure of business means chaos when thinking of paying bills.”

For the rural communities, working in agriculture, little has changed. But in a had-to-mouth economy, where survival was already marginal, the future looks incredibly uncertain.

Alex spoke fondly of the landlady of his house, who’d said, with her head hung low, “With the closure of businesses, I am not able to sell my handicrafts and feed my family”.

We will continue to share experiences of life #underthemask. If you have a tale to tell, do please let us know.





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