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XelaWho by Issue

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Got Shorty

Portada XW105 smallOn the 22nd of February 2014 dozens of soldiers and police descended on a luxury condominium in Mazatlán, Mexico, and finally managed to capture the legendary, but elusive, drug kingpin Joaquín Guzmán Loera, more commonly known as “El Chapo” (Shorty). Eluding capture for an incredible 13 years, El Chapo´s legend grew into almost mythical proportions – a legend that will undoubtedly remain even as he is put behind bars in his 5* prison.

His tale is your archetypal rags-to-riches story: born to a poor family in a rural, mountain village in Mexico, he followed his father´s footsteps at a young age into the region´s main industry – growing and smuggling marijuana and opium.

It wasn’t long until he hooked up with the drug lord, and his soon-to-be partner in crime, Héctor “El Güero” Palma by overseeing drug shipments to the US-Mexican border. Gúzman quickly gained a reputation for  being a fearless and ruthless trafficker that enabled him to swiftly move up through the ranks: it is said that if any of his drug shipments arrived late he would simply shoot the responsible smuggler in the head rather than listen to excuses.



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Pacaya Pyrotechnics

Always one for a spectacle, Guatemala witnessed another huge volcanic eruption in March when Pacaya Volcano began spewing rivers of lava and clouds of ash after a series of powerful explosions on the 1st and 2nd of March. The ash clouds reached a towering height of at least 4km before raining down on the Pacific Coast, reaching as far as Ocós on the Mexican border – some 250 kilometers away. Parque Nacional Pacaya is now open again for hikes and we´re told the new lava formations make for an incredible sight. With Semana Santa coming up, why not go and check them out for yourself?

Behind the Cloth

By Allison Haven

Anyone who has spent time in Guatemala can’t help but fall in love with the colorful textiles worn by indigenous people here. Guatemala is unique in Central America for these strong Mayan artisan traditions apparent it in the quantity of tipica artisan products sold in the markets of Antigua, Panajachel, and in the stores of Xela.

A typical scene with a typical tourist in a typical tipica artisan handicraft store or market might go as follows:

“What a beautiful table runner/walling hanging! And it’s made by hand? How much? Wow, that is so cheap! What a bargain! I love shopping in Guatemala!”

Now, while it is true that there is a difference in cost of living between Guatemala and the US/Europe, there might also be another reason for the incredibly low prices for artisan products in Guatemala that tourists might not think about… labor exploitation.  Perhaps you don’t think that something handmade could in fact be made in a sweatshop. Unfortunately, many fabrics and handmade souvenirs common in tourist shops are indeed made in factories employing workers to sew and weave at dirt-cheap wages. While the items might be technically “handmade”, the purchase of the product is by no-means helping any individual artisan. This system of exploitative labor further deepens the cycle of poverty in Guatemala.

Guatemalan Composers Part 2: Jazz

By Diana Pastor

On the 30th of April the world once again celebrates international jazz day – an occasion to celebrate what has been a symbol of freedom throughout musical history, both for its versatility as for its magnificent capacity for the expression of emotions.

Those of us who love the genre here in Guatemala have been happy to see that, in recent years, jazz has been spreading throughout the country and becoming more and more popular with each day that passes. One reason for this jazztastic expansion has been the visits paid to our country by a number of foreign musicians who, famous or not, have made it possible for us Guatemalans to expand our musical horizons. Another reason has been the internal growth of national jazz artists that have driven the creation and composition of Guatemalan music into new territories, and, in some way or another, have struggled to gain spaces in which they can make their talents known to others. Some years ago, for example, the Trova-jazz cafe opened in Guatemala city, as a project-business that enables the propagation of both genres.

Garbanzos de Miel

By Simone Riddle

“Se puede comer garbanzos salados?!” “You can eat chickpeas as a savory dish?!” asked my friend in disgust when I proudly presented a vegetarian chickpea curry at one of my first potluck dinners here in Xela. It’s fair to say it didn’t go down very well. But who knew that chickpeas could be eaten as a dessert? Any true Chapin would not eat them any other way.

‘Garbanzos en miel’ - chickpeas in honey (or, what should really translate as ‘chickpeas in lots of sugar’) is a Guatemalan delicacy eaten  para la pascua (for Easter). Like many other colonial imports, Guatemala has embraced el garbanzo and made it very much their own. It is now as familiar to Easter and as paches are to Christmas.

Semana Santa (Holy Week) would not be the same without garbanzos en miel. Imagine Antigua without procesiones y alfombras; Imagine Domingo de Ramos (the Sunday before Easter) without traffic-halting crowds around parque central, drowning in the scent of burning incense and cuetes (fireworks); Imagine la cuarezma (lent) without mango season. God forbid! There is no Semana Santa without garbanzos en miel.


By Juan Jardinero

“The ground´s generosity takes in our compost and grows beauty. Try to be more like the ground.”


One of the first things you should do if you are trying to have a more sustainable lifestyle, is composting. Compost is the end result of the natural process of decomposition of organic matter that has been recycled and turned into a fortified substance that can be returned to the land. Compost will allow you to add nutrient rich soil back to your garden, offering a natural alternative to chemical fertilizers, and helping your plants grow bigger and better.

It is said that 30% of household waste can be composted. That includes all kitchen scraps, coffee grounds, grass clipping which will help increase the nitrogen content of your garden. To balance this out, you should also add carbon materials such as newspaper, cardboard,  wood chips, leaves, straw, and wood ashes.  A general rule of thumb to follow is 1 part green (nitrogen) to 3 parts brown (carbon). Finding that exact mix is truly the art of composting.

Xela Bites

by Seudonimo Anonimo

What I thought was just a typical morning on the way to the Despensa Familiar became the day I tempted fate. While casually sauntering down the street—at Guatemalan pace, of course—a perro de la calle came around the corner, bit my leg, and bolted past. Fast food, you might say.

As I stumbled home with potential rabies germs coursing through my veins, my main thought was that I was bummed. I hadn’t made it to the Despensa. This seemed like a shitty situation but nothing some strong Guatemalan antibiotics couldn’t fix. However I would soon forget about the Despensa.

At home, my roommate went into panic mode, which, retrospectively, I’m glad one of us did. She quickly ran and got a friend from our condominio who is technically a doctor. I say “technically” because being below the US legal drinking age and calling yourself a doctor seems a bit incompatible. He told us to go ahorita to the General Hospital and get the rabies vaccine. Little did I know that this ahorita attitude would come to plague this entire experience.

Beer Wars

Those who have been hanging around Guatemala for a while now will have undoubtedly noticed the plummeting prices of that all-too-
precious commodity: cerveza. Even just over a year ago, you would be hard-pressed to find bars where you could buy a litre of beer for under Q30 (not including the infamous cantinas, of course). Walk around the centre of Xela now and you’d be hard-pressed not to notice all of the gigantic signs hung up outside bars attempting to lure you into their drinking holes with promises of beer for prices reaching under Q10 a litre. Last year, big events such as the Independence Day celebrations saw prices reach a record low of Q1 for a beer. Carry on at this rate, and soon the beer companies in Guatemala will be paying us to drink their beer (not altogether a bad prospect).

But no, these plummeting prices are not a concerted attempt of Guatemalan beer companies to turn the entire population into alcoholics, although we’re sure they wouldn’t complain if this was an unintended side effect. Behind the scenes, a fierce power play is at work involving one of Guatemala’s most powerful families and an ever-expanding behemoth of a global drinks company, with a grand prize none other than the hearts, minds and wallets of Guatemala’s beer drinkers – a group of people that, by our underestimate, makes up a rather large portion of the population. And this month’s edition of XelaWho is here to bring you all the gory details.

The Cervecería Centro Americana S.A, most associated with the iconic rooster head to be found on beer bottles, tables, chairs, t-shirts, beer mats, concert stages and even atop giant Christmas trees, represents one of Guatemala’s most enduring and easily recognisable brands. Gallo is Guatemala’s oldest produced beer – going into production over 100 years ago way back in 1896. It is also owned by one of Guatemalan’s wealthiest and most powerful families, the Castillos, a name which you are guaranteed to see on those lists of “the Oligarch families that run Central America.”



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Stop Thief! 

Those of us you who have had the good fortune of having your pocket picked whilst riding aboard the minibuses that comprise Xela’s world class urban transport system, will be delighted to know that the PNC (Policia Nacional Civil) have devised a new initiative  for combatting robbery on board urban transport. The strategy involves placing “operatives” at designated bus stops in order to deter thieves from taking advantage of the over-loaded buses by lifting valuables out of people’s bags and pockets whilst they’re too squeezed on all sides to notice. A winning strategy, no doubt, for a transport system in which the drivers stop whenever and wherever they want, instead of using “designated bus stops.”

Guatemalan Composers, pt 1

By Diana Pastor

I recently enrolled in the Academy of Music of Quetzaltenango in order to learn to play the piano. From the first day that I arrived to the place, I thought to myself that it couldn’t have been baptized with a better name than the one it has been given: it was named after one of the most remarkable and outstanding Guatemalan composers, an artistic revolutionary who forged the foundation for folk classicism in Guatemala. His name: Jesús Castillo.

Castillo was born in Quetzaltenango in 1877. His studies in folk music, despite their limitations at the time, led to introduce new marimba styles. A direct product of his hard work in the genre was the appearance of “concert marimba.” His love for his country and his creativity joined together to lead to the composition of indigenous suites, symphonic poems and many other pieces of music of notable importance for the history of Guatemalan music, such as a the wonderful “fiesta de pájaros” (party of birds), a marimba composition that was totally different from the usual compositions of that time. Although Castillo passed away more than half a century ago now, his legacy has left a strong mark on the history of the national music of marimba, breaking through as he did with the traditions of the time.