The forces driving migration from Guatemala: poverty and dreams

By | April 6, 2019

Jonathan Blitzer writes:

[N]early every aspect of life in Guatemala depends on money coming from the United States. Last year, nine billion dollars were sent back to the country in the form of remittances [from relatives working in the U.S.]—an amount that is roughly double the total from a decade ago and accounted for more than eleven per cent of Guatemala’s gross domestic product. Donald Trump has announced that he will be cutting all aid to Central America, complaining that the U.S. gives these countries “tremendous amounts of money”; in 2017, the total sum of money the U.S. sent to the region in annual aid amounted to roughly five hundred million dollars, or less than three per cent of the money received in the form of remittances. “People can afford milk and eggs because of the remittances they receive,” Irma Alicia Velásquez Nimatuj, a social anthropologist from Quetzaltenango, told me. “They can build houses. Their children can get an education. And people can start small businesses. The only way poor indigenous women can afford their traditional dress is because of remittance money.”

Without this source of support, Velásquez said, levels of violence would be higher, spending would drop, and poverty would be more extreme. In effect, the stability of village economies has become a function of whether a critical mass of its citizens can make it to the U.S. When someone wants or needs something—a house, more land to farm, a car, seed money to open a store—the most common way to get it is to leave. “There is no law that’s going to change how many people come to the U.S.,” Velásquez said. “When there’s this level of poverty and inequality in Guatemala, people will always go. They see the example of their families and their neighbors who have gone, and they see how they’ve been able to advance as a result. An average worker in Guatemala doesn’t earn enough to cover his basic living expenses.” [Continue reading…]

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