Asking questions in Guatemala about a tourists experience could be a dangerous tryst with the truth. Especially if it happens to be a tourist like me. I don’t smile and speak pleasant. I note, observe, and find ways to express myself especially in the face of injustice and inequality. Thats why I was happy to be one of those tourist-folks that the Instituto Guatemalteco de Turismo (INGAUT) interviewed about their experiences in Guatemala. Even got a little gift for suffering through the process!
Initially the questions were about my overall experience as a tourist in Guatemala, but then the young just-out-of-college-dude began to get specific about the services- roads, means of travel, hotels, restaurants and shops catering to tourists, tourists places, government services. Then the questions revolved around impressions of Guatemala and culture.
So I did what any person of social justice consciousness would do: gave him a soundbite reflection on my time observing Guatemala. It was for the most part the truth, not glossy romanticized blubber. I didn’t have a lot of nice things to say about the Guatemalan bureaucracy, and felt strongly that it was part of the problem, if not a root cause, to why Guatemala remains so impoverished and insecure.
I emphasized my main issues- Corruption, how on the crossing from Mexico back into Guatemala, government officials tried to extort an entry fee, in cash, when there was no entry fee whatsoever; lack of accountability, how there is no one I could turn too when I was being shaken by the government official, the police or security person was standing right there when this shake down was happening; the fact that the government exploits indigenous culture and peoples to market Guatemala, yet at the same time it carried out a campaign of genocide in a 36 year long brutal campaign for which no one has been held accountable, including the current president who is implicated in mass murders in the Mayan heartland of Guatemala, and for a government that continues to discriminate and marginalize indigenous communities shaking them down and preventing them from gaining self determination and basic needs with laws and shady deals like what I saw taking place along Lake Atitlan.
The INGUAT survey collector was taken back by my responses and my associated examples. What could these folks do, they are survey collectors, they could only shake their head and apologize for what they had no control over. There job is to collect data.
I found this my one opportunity to put on the record precisely what I believe was wrong with Guatemala, with someone in the Guatemalan government. I hadn’t gotten down to the root causes of these problems, complex as they were. But my feeling was that maybe it might just make a difference. Or maybe it would get weeded out. But my conscious said it was the right thing to do.
Either way I needed to be heard (I know selfish!), I had to share the voices of the people I met and discussed issues with, and this was a starting point. It wasn’t its people, it was the Guatemalan government and the narrow interests that this privileged oriented institutions represents.