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Poverty in Guatemala

Why is it happening?

When it comes to the term poverty, people often view the word as a person or people living in a state of extreme poorness. What most people do not know, however, is that there is an actual poverty line. The poverty line is the threshold, and it shows the minimum level of income that a country sees fit, and anyone that generates under this level of income is a person who is living in poverty. In Guatemala, which is a South American country riddled by poverty, the poverty line is around $3.20, which represents daily income. The surprising thing is that 59% of the Guatemalan population is living below this poverty line. This insurmountable amount of poverty did not happen overnight though, but rather, the problem has been increasing for years. The causes for poverty in Guatemala include civil war, social inequality, and forced labor.

In Guatemala, civil war raged for over 30 years. Much like any war, the civil war imposed costs on Guatemala and drained the resources needed to sustain everyone’s lives. The civil war was fought between the Guatemalan government and the indigenous people, who make up a large percent of the rural poor living in the country. According to the article, “Excerpts: Summary of Report on Guatemala's Civil War,” “Through its investigation, the CEH discovered one of the most devastating effects of this policy: state forces and related paramilitary groups were responsible for…92 percent of the arbitrary execution and 91 percent of forced disappearances…the vast majority were mayans,” (Excerpts: Summary of Report on Guatemala's Civil War). This quote is explaining how the vast majority of executions and disapperances were caused by the government. What the quote does not explain is that because of these executions and disappearances left many children as orphans. The increase in orphans also led to the increase in the amount of children living below the poverty line. The civil war was also responsible for the destruction of numerous villages, which left villagers dead or homeless. Around 440 villages were destroyed, and many more faced some destruction, and this fact left a large portion of the population living under the poverty line.

Another one of the main causes that has caused the level of poverty in Guatemala is the social inequality that the country faces. Guatemala has an extremely diverse society that is full of different cultures and ethnicities, but this diversity has often times been the root cause for many conflicts, like the civil war. Often times, the indigenous people are discriminated against and they are pushed into the lower tiers of society by the government. The indigenous population, which make up at least half of the total population, also account for less than a quarter of the total income in Guatemala. These statistics are due to the fact that the indigenous people of Guatemala often do not get jobs, so the amount of income is well under the poverty line. According to Anna-Claire Bevan’s article, entitled “Guatemala,” “[t]hough indigenous people are in the majority… they remain on the bottom rung of the socio-economic ladder. Most live in the highlands, are poorly educated and poorly provided for – and their plight is unlikely to be improved by a government preoccupied with increasing security and tackling the endemic drug war,” (Bevan 32). Though the discrimination of the indigenous people of this country led to conflict, it also led to much more.

With social inequality, came the forced labor of the indigenous people of Guatemala. From the 1600s to mid-1900s, the government forced the indigenous people to work for them in the fields. This forced labor was unpaid, so the indigenous population was working for nothing, but they were using the energy required by a manual labor job. Children were also forced to work in the fields for little to no money, so many children lived in poverty. This led to death or extreme malnutrition due to the lack of food, money, and energy. Children were also left with dangerous jobs, and due to this, many children were harmed or killed from the jobs. If children were injured, most families had no way to pay for the cost of tending to the injury of the child. If the injury was life threatening, the child would die in most cases. In some families, children were the only source of income, so without their children, families were left below the poverty line with little to no income.

Civil war, social inequality, and forced labor are three of the root cause for poverty in Guatemala. In the future, hopefully the Guatemalan government will make some changes regarding the civil and social unjust within the country. Without these changes, Guatemala will most likely continue to spiral down the road that it has been going down for years.

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Poverty in Guatemala
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