Incredibly beautiful nature, hot-tempered people, coffee plantations, colorful clothes, and Latin music all around – this image comes first when foreigners hear about Guatemala. However, the daily life of the locals is far from easy and colorful dream. Hard work, low wages, difficult political situation, and hopes of emigration to the United States. What is the real Guatemala outside the safe tourist bubble?
The USA In Any Price
Arriving to a dreamy land of the USA is neither easy nor cheap. People who organize illegal trips to the United States are called “coyotes” in Guatemala. Their services usually cost around 75-80 thousand quetzals (€8300-8850) or even more. On the scale of wages in Guatemala, this is extremely huge amounts of money. Teachers, doctors, and civil servants in this country earn about 1,200 to 1,500 quetzals (€132-166) per month, while field workers earn about 1,000 quetzals (€110). To travel to the United States, Guatemalan residents mortgage homes or other property and take out bank loans.
However, because the trips are illegal, people do not get any visas, documents, or any other guarantees. As a result, sometimes people spend such money and do not get to the United States. And those who manage to reach the USA do not have neither a job nor a place to live when they arrive and must be very careful as illegal immigrants are deported.
Coyotes are intermediaries between people seeking a better life and drug barons who are controlling the Mexican-US border. Moreover, people are forced to smuggle drugs across the border. If people refuse to be smugglers, they are usually just shot. To reach the desert, a long and difficult journey through Mexico awaits, during which you risk being robbed by gangs raging in the country. Also, many emigrants die in the desert without even reaching Mexico as there are many cases when people are torn by wild animals in the desert.
Safe Touristic Bubble
Although Guatemala, like other Latin American countries, is consistently among the top ten countries with the highest number of homicides, tourists are not deterred by this fact. The infrastructure created for tourism allows foreigners to travel around Latin America in a safe bubble, sometimes without even realizing the daily challenges of the locals. Not only law enforcement, but also criminal gangs in the country have an interest in ensuring that nothing happens to tourists. Tourism is one of the main engines of the economy.
In the capital of Guatemala, all shops have slatted windows and people are not allowed to come inside. You have to pick a product, tell the cashier, and they will bring it to you through the window. Even the entrances to some hotels or hostels are equipped with cameras. However, in the most popular touristic places such as Antigua, Flores, or villages of Lake Atitlan these are not common practices. All shops are open here. Locals warn that the situation is not the same in different parts of the country. Still, seeing their lives flowing calmly, you would never think that the situation in the neighboring district is radically different.