Sat, Dec.22

Juliet and I went on a school outing, a stiff scramble up a mountain overlookig the Xela area.  Luis, one of the teachers, pointed out various examples of deforestation and environmental degradation that we could see.  He pointed out a huge mining project that scars the land, operated by an Israeli corporation.  He said Israel endeared itself to past dictators by selling them arms, and now they are close to the corrupt elite so they are permitted to deface the land.  I heard similar things in Nicaragua.  Israel has not helped to make Jews popular in Central America.

The other day as I walked on the street, a dog barked at me furiously and the owner indicated with body language and eye contact that the dog wouldn’t hurt me.  I tried to calm the dog but he kept barking at me.  The man said, “He’s a racist.  He’s black.”  It’s a bad joke, but the guy had a typically Central American way of being warm and friendly, and we enjoyed sharing the joke and a little conection.  It seems to me that this kind of warmth and connectedness has been diminishing over the 22 years that I’ve been visiting Central America.  This is all anecdotal, but I attribute it to globalization.

A few anecdotal examples.  On my most recent two trips, I never saw a single street musician.  Instead, outside of stores there is recorded music blasting out of speakers at deafening levels. There is much more crime and violence, and everyone is afraid and warns us not to walk around at night and not to hike on trails alone. In Managua on my last trip, some taxi drivers hustled me and fought over who would get me in their taxi, and then once I was in a taxi, the guy tried to change the price on me.  That would never have happened in the past.  In both Managua and Xela, there is vastly more strip development and North American fast food corporate restaurants than there used to be.

On past trips, I would go into a cafe for a cup of coffee and the proprietor would sit down with me to chat over coffee.  Today everything is more businesslike, and everyone is more anxious.

Advocates of globalization would say I want the people to remain in picturesque poverty.  I do not believe globalization has generally helped people.  Maybe in India they are better off.  In Central America, if there is an increase in the GDP at all (which I doubt),  then it is not improving the lives of the people; it’s all going to the elite few.  Everyone is more impoverished in terms of connectedness, community, safety, and probably materially as well.  In Guatemala over the last 10 years, the birth rate has declined and the death rate has increased.

Getting back to that outing we took this morning, I had a chance to talk with several of the students.  They all seem to be about 20 years old, so I could be their grandfather.  They’re a serious bunch, interested in doing work to help the world and the environment, interested in progressive politics, and most of them are doing volunteer work in Guatemala.  They seem optimistic that they can have a positive impact on the world.

Speaking of the deforestation we saw, there really is a dilemma.  The campesinos in the countryside are not contributing to global warming because they do not drive motor vehicles and they use wood for cooking.  If they could stop using wood, then they would use fossil fuel.  Is there a sustainable way to supply the current population of the world with enough energy to survive?  I doubt it.

Juliet, glutton for punishment that she is, decided she wants to spend the second half of her winter break studying Spanish.  So we’re going to stay in Xela for another week and continue going to the Spanish school and wearing many layers of clothing.