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Hue Hue Don’t Tell Me

So you’ve been to Tikal, Semuc Champey, Atitlan and (for some strange reason…) Antigua. Onya!  If you’re looking to step of the beaten track you might want to spare a thought, and a weekend, for the next big thing in Guatemala: Huehuetenango, pronounced “way way tenango.”  A hue hue (get it?) from the snazzy organic-falafel-serving hangout you’re probably reading this in, Huehue is the real up-and-coming tourist destination in the Maya heartland. But before you start searching for your trusty North Face jacket, XelaWho has got the goods for you on Huehue’s must-sees and the troubled fortunes of its indigenous communities facing off against a dramatic international mining and hydro-electric expansion.  

XelaWho’s hard hitting reporters traveled to Huehue last year to bring you an ear-to-the-ground perspective on the best Huehue has to offer and to have a nice Semana Santa jumping into pristine cenotes (see August 2016 XelaWho edition). There isn’t much in the way of tourism there yet, but boy is there a lot to see. Beautiful cenotes (big holes in the ground sometimes filled with water), lakes, mountains, and the drunkest horse riders this side of Russell Crowe on the set of Gladiator.  

_SAM0985

The local governments and peoples of Huehue have previously been very anti-tourism due to fears of foreign companies taking over indigenous lands. Recently having warmed up to the possibility of those sweet gringo dollars, Huehue has recently opened tourism offices, welcoming some development and foreign visitors – with the exception of international companies developing massive mining and hydro-electric projects and kicking indigenous folk off their land. 

Guatemala has a sordid history when it comes to mining. It goes back a century, but really kicked off at the end of the civil war in the mid-90s with the transition to civilian government under President Álvaro Árzu. Ever the man of the people, Árzu signed Mining Law 1997, which permitted 100% foreign ownership of mining projects and dropped mining taxes from 6% to 1%. Spurred by that and growing demand from Asia, international mining companies rushed to exploit Guatemala’s rich gold, silver and nickel deposits. The mostly Canadian companies (and you thought they were the good guys in North America! tsk tsk) – bumped Latin America’s share of global mining investment from 12% to 30%. They also increased mining permits in Huehue by a 1000% during the 2000s. The results of the vague and unenforceable environmental and indigenous consultation provisions in that law were many indigenous communities persecuted and/or booted from their land. 

Lately, hydro-electric dams have become the new development flavour of the day. While supplying green energy, these projects are often located on traditional lands of indigenous Maya. Communities in Huehue, such as Ixquisis, and San Andres, are up in arms to stop the developments and protect their homes and this hasn’t gone unnoticed by the government-backed developers. During a protest in January, their cronies opened fire on peaceful protesters in Ixquisis, resulting in 2 deaths. In the first half of this year, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights received 5 reports of attacks against community protesters across Guatemala, including the assassination of a community anti mining-activist in Jalapa.  

Local Guatemalan law and the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (which Guatemala signed on in 1996) require consultation with indigenous peoples before any such development. One crafty developer found a neat workaround by just saying that there were no indigenous people in the development area, a conclusion that the government readily accepted. The local Maya Achi’ people, who were clearly in the area, weren’t as pleased with this conclusion. 

Community activism against such projects continues, but the prospects for the Mayan communities of Huehue don’t look fantastic as they face off against their own government and powerful international interests. At least you’ll have nickel for that new shiny iPhone and a great time jumping into cenotes, right? 

Happy November Xela! There some bad stuff going on in Guatemala but some great stuff too. So read more, get amongst it and enjoy yourself! 

_SAM0917

Stuff – Pesky Separatists

October 2017 was an all-time month for independence and backlash. Two semi-autonomous regions – Catalonia in Spain and Kurdistan in Iraq – held referendums for their independence. Both regions voted in favor of proper political independence, and both were met in turn by mano duro reactions from their central governments, who moved forcefully to block said independence and strip them of their autonomy. 

 

That’s a familiar tune for Quetzaltecos and Guatemalan history aficionados. For a brief moment in the 19th century, Xela was the capital of the Sexto Estado de Los Altos – a breakaway state of the Federal Republic of Central America, founded by liberal elite seeking to cast off the influence of the Catholic Church and level the severe social stratification embraced by the conservative government in Guatemala City.  

 

It didn’t go well. The Federal Republic of Central America dissolved into civil war between the liberal and conservative factions. President-to-be Rafael Carerra pushed out a liberal invasion in Guatemala City before marching on and conquering Xela – snuffing out the Sexto Estado once and for all. 

 

That was their intention, at least. Revolts to restore the Sexto Estado continued in the years after Xela’s brief independence. Now, nearly two centuries later, the spirit of a culturally and politically distinct region lives on – evidenced by the love that Quetzaltecos have of talking shit on the capital and Sexto Estado nostalgia seen on historic monuments and independence celebrations in and around Xela. You can take away a region’s political autonomy, but smothering the spirit of a place is nigh-impossible. Xelawho stands in solidarity with the Sexto Estado, Catalonia, Kurdistan, and other places and people yearning to be free all around the world. 

Popping & Flopping

thumbs-up-poppping

Popping

Gouls & Ghosts

The dry season in Guatemala begins with a trio of Catholic holidaysAll Hallow’s Eve, All Saints, and All Soul’s day. We’ve decided that  the spirits, ghosts, specters and ghouls of Guatemala are absolutely popping. They’re great at keeping up relationships with the living and keep up a world-class cemetery. Most importantly, perhaps, they put with and even enjoy fiambrean everything-salad of cold cuts, cheese, and cabbage that some on Xelawho’s editorial staff privately think is kind of gross. Good job, guys. 

Dr. Sabelotodo

Dear Dr. Sabelotodo, 

    Why on earth were there so many vendors in the park during October?  

Thanks – Curious in Cantel 

 

 

Great to hear from you, Curious. The vendors were in the park because of the Catholic holiday of El Día de La Virgen del Rosario — a celebration of the appearance of the holy spirit’s baby momma to St. Dominic. She gave him the rosary and taught him how to use it as a weapon against bad dudes. It’s celebrated in October to commemorate the most awesome display of the rosary’s power to date. As every school child knows, this was on October 7, 1571, when the Holy League used the potent talisman to defeat the Ottoman scourge in the Battle of Lepanto. 

But you probably already knew all that, so let’s dive deeper. All those street vendors you saw represent something even more unsettling than pagan Ottomans — Guatemala’s massive informal economy. 

The informal economy consists of those jobs that are outside of government regulation and taxation. In Guatemala, it accounts for a staggering 75% of the workforce. All of your favorite pupusa peddlers, blanket barons, and succulent slingers are members of this four and a half million strong army of unregistered workers. While some people might complain that these workers are just naughty, tax-dodging, rule-breakers, the real problem is that they enjoy neither real government protections nor services: they have no minimum wage, no social security, and no health insurance. 

Xela is doing it’s best to at least organize the city’s informal street vendors. Since 2014, the city hasn’t issued any new vendor permits. According to them, there’s simply no more space. Thus the current arrangement of vendors has been in place for at least three years. These vendors pay Q5 to Q20 per day to the city, depending on the size of the spot, which serves to partially offset the loss in tax revenue. But this solution excludes any new vendors that might want to enter the market, and the police remove an average of three such vendors by force every week. A longer term solution is obviously needed. 

Why are there so many Guatemalans toiling away in the informal economy? Is it because 2% of the Guatemalan population owns 70% of the productive land, thus giving the poor little leverage to take out loans and few opportunities for stable jobs? Yes. Is it because to register any business with la SAT you need to have both the paperwork skills of an origami grandmaster and the bribery skills of Jabba the Hutt, thus leaving many people with no option other than to work illegally? Also yes. Is it because the global economy has spent centuries taking advantage of Guatemala’s labor and natural resources at the expense of the Guatemalan people? As always, yes. 

The size of the informal economy is a complex problem, and unfortunately this is a problem that won’t be solved with a magic necklace. It’s going to take real, difficult political action the details of which are beyond the scope of this light-hearted magazine column. In the meantime, support your local unregistered worker and go buy some tacos. 

Trendy

The second trailer for the upcoming Star Wars film The Last Jedi dropped in October – briefly setting the internet on fire and leaving nerds worldwide divided on whether to slobber all over their keyboards with excitement or to publish cynical walls of text preemptively denouncing the film as bad and dumb. 

Star-Wars-Episode-VIII-The-Last-JEdi-2017-Trailer

Guatemala, of course, has cameoed in a couple of Star Wars films – the jungle temples of Yavin IV are actually the ancient Mayan city of Tikal, and Oscar Issac (who plays rebel ace Poe Dameron in the new series) was adopted as a baby from Guatemala. Taking these tenuous connections and running with them, Guatemalans lit up twitter with #sistarwarsfuerachapin— “yes, Star Wars was Guatemalan.” There were, of course, your typical digs at President Jimmy Morales, a man so dumb he might just have his dialogue scripted by prequel-era George Lucas. “Jar Jar Binks was played by @jimmymoralesgt,” according to @juanpablodardon.  

 

On top of the political cracks were some astute observations about locations in Star Wars; @unponchoencima pointed out that Luke did his training in the steamy jungles of Masate, not Dagobah, and @N/A proposed that the cantina where Luke met Obi-Wan was in the capital rather than Mos Eisley. There were a whole mess of jokes about the capital, actually—turns out the Guatemala’s very own dystopian metropolis looks like a decaying science-fiction locale to more people than Xelawho’s editorial staff. 

 Jokes about Star Wars help to take everyone’s mind off of Guatemala’s roiling political crisis. One hashtag on Twitter last month was #depuracioncongresoor “clean up Congress.”  The chapin crusaders of Twitter have turned their attention to the villains of the day – the corrupt politicos of UNE and LIDER, who have allied with Jimmy Morales and his FCN cronies to try and throw out CICIG head Ivan Velasquez (read our last issue for a more complete breakdown of this situation). The big player stripped of his immunity this month was Aristides Crespo – former president of congress, member of PP and FRG, and part of the #pactodecorruptosWe’re hoping to see more action from these hashtags in the months to come. 

There were plenty more serious hashtags, of course – if you’re interested in the ongoing fall of Guatemala City mayor Alvaro Arzu, check out #cajadepanadora – but in the spirit of silliness and irresponsibility we’re going to feature another dumb one instead. Xelawho presents a hashtag made for us if there ever was a one: #mihistoriadebolo, or “my drunken story.” We will present these without Twitter handles to protect the reputations and rap sheets of the not-so-innocent. One twitter user “got drunk and was locked overnight in the bathroom of a hostel in Antigua.” Another “climbed on a roof to rescue some cats who were stuck up there – while I was in my underwear.” A third fell asleep on a sidewalk while smoking a cigarette outside his friends house. A fourth fell asleep in the back of his car after totaling it while attempting to park. 

 There seems to be a theme here – drunk Guatemalans love to fall asleep in public. Anyone who’s been round the liquor store in Las Flores or who has walked from point A to B in Xela and found a sidewalk napper along the way knows this to be true. If you’re drunk and thinking about about falling asleep on the sidewalk, don’t tweet about it afterwards – contact us on Facebook. We think you might be a good fit for our editorial staff.

Orale Xela! 

 

Recipe of the Month:: Vegan Sweetcorn Chowder

La cosecha is here! It’s the time of year farmers “dan las gracias” for the upcoming harvest of their most sacred plant,

el maiz. According to Mayan cosmovision, man came from corn so there’s no shortage of corn based recipes here in

Guatemala. This is a simple dish for all your vegan travelers craving something corn based that’s not atol de elote.

corn

Ingredients:

1 onion, diced

2 tbs coconut oil

3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely

diced 2 red jalapeños, 1 deseeded and finely diced the other saved for garnish

3 elotes, giving you approx. 3 cups of corn kernels 1 can of coconut milk

2 cups water

1 lime

Handful of cilantro

Instructions:

1. Start by shaving off the corn kernals, keep the husks

2. Heat the oil in a large pan and add the onion to soften for 2-3 minutes. Add the garlic and the one diced chili

and continue to cook for another minute before adding the corn, coconut milk, water and corn husks- no this isn’t a

mistake but every Ama de Casa’s best kept secret to give your stew extra flavor. Cover the pot and bring to the

boil before simmering for approximately 15-20 minutes until cooked

3. Remove the husks. Leave to cool a little before blending.

Squeeze in the lime juice and taste for seasoning.

When serving, sprinkle a generous helping of chopped cilantro, a few slices of red jalapeño rings, and another squeeze of lime

Bon appétit, Xela!

My Latin American food blog can be found at www.lasalsainglesa.com.

Xelebrity of the Month – November

XelaWho’s ear-to-the-ground correspondent, Jalapeño Jacobo, brings you the stories behind the famous faces you see around town in Xela. This month, he spoke to one of the groups that makes alfombras for the procession of La Virgen del Rosario. 

 

What’s going on here? 

Just putting the finishing touches on our alfombra. 

 

Alfombra as in carpet? 

Does this look like a carpet to you? 

 

No, it looks like a giant, colorfulmosaictype design laid out on the street. 

That’s exactly what it is. 

 

How long have you been making these beautiful “alfombras?” 

We started 27 years ago. We are actually the group that began this festival in Xela. 

 

So, would you say that these other groups are just hapless imitators? 

Everyone is doing really great work. 

 

But you guys are the best? 

Sure. 

 

I knew I picked the right group to interview. Tell me a bit about your design process. 

Every year we come up with a new design. We start about two months before the festival with a theme that honors the Virgin Mary. Then, we create a design on paper that represents the theme. And finally, we come to the park and make the magic happen. 

 

How exactly do you make the magic happen? 

First, we draw the design on the ground with chalk (that’s where the care and artistry come in) and then we fill the design in with colored sawdust. 

 

Ahhh, I always thought it was sand. 

You thought we carried giant bags of sand to the park and then dumped them on the street? 

 

Yup. 

Well that’s ridiculous. 

 

Where do you get so much colored sawdust from? 

We buy loads of sawdust from local carpenters and then color it ourselves. 

 

You guys are true craftsmen. 

Of course we are, we take pride in what we do. 

 

Where do you get your artistic spark from? 

The Virgin Mary. 

 

Oh right.. 

Where did this alfombra tradition originate? 

I don’t really know. It’s an old Guatemalan tradition and people have been making these alfombras for as long as I can remember. 

 

What does the city think about you covering the street in sawdust? 

They don’t mind. They know it’s an important part of our culture, and so they give us permits to do this free of charge. 

 

What happens once everyone’s finished with their alfombras? 

A procession arrives and ruins all of them. 

 

And what does that symbolize? 

Our devotion to the Virgin Mary. 

 

Right, of course. 

We really need to finish up before the procession arrives. 

 

Ok, anything else the extranjeros should know about your alfombra? 

We make one every year, and we do it to honor the Virgin Mary. 

 

Wonderful. Got it. 

Great work guys! 

 

 

 

The Joker and the Thief

Xelawho loves to clown around. We live for jokes, gaffes and goofs. Groan-worthy puns are our raison d’être. Guatemala’s cashed-up dunces and idiots in elected office commit enough unforced errors during a normal month for us to laugh all the way to the bank.

     September was not a normal month. As anti-impunity commission CICIG closed in on President Jimmy Morales, he attempted to expel their boss Ivan Velasquez from the country. In the face of mounting evidence that Morales was both Corrupt and a Thief, the diputados in Congress declined to strip him of his immunity, lest doing their right thing come round to bite them in the ass if their own crimes ever came to light.

   Then, having abdicated their civic and moral responsibilities once over, Congress doubled down. They called a special session to gut anti-graft legislation, and tens of thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets with black flags to mark their independence day. Shit’s bad, basically. Moreover, it’s a tired routine —nobody’s really laughing anymore.

But let’s rewind the tape for a second. What exactly did CICIG do to twist the president’s panties into a knot? If your guess was “their jobs,” then you might be a bit smarter than Morales. He got steamed when CICIG announced they were looking into the campaign finances of his party — the National Convergence Front, abbreviated in Spanish as FCN.

     Of particular interest to CICIG were millions of Quetzales possibly donated to the FCN by ex-military drug trafficker Monroy Meoño, alias “El Fantasma.” Before his arrest and extradition to the United States in 2016, Meoño alleged to El Periodico that the FCN collected protection money from drug traffickers all across Guatemala.Other donations to the FCN were similarly questionable or not properly accounted for. And so Morales, in a desperate move, attempted to declare Ivan Velasquez a “persona non grata” and remove him from Guatemala.

     It wasn’t just the FCN that was left spooked. CICIG declared an investigation into two other major parties — the social democrats UNE and right-wing populists LIDER. UNE, LIDER,and the FCN rarely agree, but they banded together under the threat of investigation. An emergency session of Guatemala’s congress was called, and diputados across the political spectrum nearly passed a bill to roll back legal and financial penalties for corruption.

The Guatemalan people, united in righteous anger, didn’t stand for it. They poured into the streets —in Xela, in the capital, and all across the country.

_SAM2815A national strike shut down business across the country, and highways were blocked at multiple points for days in a row.

And, incredibly, the pressure worked. Kind of. The Constitutional Court blocked the expulsion of Ivan Velasquez. Congress, being just bright enough to know which way the wind blows, couldn’t rouse the votes to pass their shameless pro-corruption bill. 104 votes are needed to strip Morales of his immunity. As of press time, we aren’t quite there; 75 voted in support the last time a motion was brought. Still, the probe into the FCN and Morales continues. By the time you’re reading this, Morales may be sitting in Pavoncito mulling his upcoming trial. Other plutocrats are teetering, too

CICIG announced in early October they’re also seeking an indictment for former president and Guatemala City mayor Alvaro Arzu. Whether any non-corrupt, non-thieves will step up to replace them remains to be seen.For our part, Xelawho would love to write that story. Until then …

¡El pueblo unido jamás ser vencido¡

Stuff

thumbs-up-poppping

Popping

Heart Eyes Emoji for Garbagemen

This month, we’d like to give a quick shout out to the people who pick up garbage in Xela. They know how to do their jobs and do them well — a quality that’s perhaps unique among the municipal workers of this fine city. What’s more, they work overtime throughout the month of September, when all of Guatemala comes to leave their trash in Parque Central. Keep up the good work!

Trendy

It was a busy September for the Tuiteros in ol’ Xela Town. Owing to the popular fall of A New Hope in government, the annual destruction during Independence Week, and several other non Brahva-fuelled natural disasters, your average Chapin with a thumb and a off-brand smart phone had a lot to tell all his 9 twitter followers about.

The transformation in public (read: government) acceptance of free speech on social media since 2015 has been nothing short of remarkable. As recently as the 2011 election cycle, ambitious upstarts willing to criticise the Guatemalan government for chronic abuse of power and corruption on social media (What gall!) were being disappeared. Now in 2017, 10,000s of Guatemaltecos and Guatemaltecas regularly take to the interwebs to denounce their government’s corruption. They even brought down Otto “wasn’t he a bad guy in one of the Rambos?” Perez in 2015! Back then, it was #YoNoTengoPresidente, which has had a facelift under the new round of extreme corruption under Jimmy Morales and his #PactodeCorruptos (see Editorial.)

Guate’s Tuiteros are pissed…

As @CongresoT points out on#AnteJuicioJimmy (Jimmy facing justice),

“More than 50% of the sections in the national congress have representatives facing legal action.” All through September there were protests and strikes across the country protesting the formal or informal impunity granted to many of Guatemala’s elected officials culminating in a#ParoNacional(national strike) that shut down the country.

_SAM2825Even Guate’s expat’s abroad joined in… @guateNY tweeted

“The Guatemalans in New York are ready

to protest outside the UN building to demand #Justicia Ya (#JusticeNow).

We’ll see if it goes the way of 2015 and Jimmy ends up getting kicked out and as@Aleph_Mulier says “Jimmy’s next speech will be infront of a tribunal.” As @wergabrielIndignante put it “The Guatemalan people are in the Constitutional Plaza and say ‘get out  thieves #manifestacion #impunidad’” (#protest #impunity).

But back in The Land of Gallo, a little thing like a #CrisisdeEstadoGT (Crisis of the Guatemalan State) can’t stop the week-long sloshfest for#IndependenciaGT ( G u a t e m a l a n I n d e p e n d e n c e ) . @_EliiasROLa astutedly pointed out after his 23rd Brahva, “was the 2011 Dry Law never passed or is it just not enforced?” Who knows, Eliias, but may it long remain so during #XelaFer! @Willyalburez had the presence of mind to tweet “In the middle of all this madness, I’m going to tweet something beautiful! #XelaFer2017”

So much for living in the momento #millenialsGT #HipstersALaVerga

Xela’s Tuiteros also took to the redes sociales (social media) to give their condolences to several tragedies in the region #TerremotoMX (Mexican earthquake)

#PuertoRico (guess, just guess)

#TemblorGT (Guatemalan tremor).

The golden boy of the 1998 World Cup @ricky_martin put it well— “3.4 million people. Together we will rise #PuertoRico.” Just spare a thought for the victims of a more local disaster in Guatemala City at the end of September #VamosAMaroon5

At least Guate city had some joy which lit up the Twitterverse when #UberIceCream(when Uber drivers deliver you free ice cream) came to town!

Esto vino pero nos quieren cobrar a quetzaaaal los helados

Some things never change @InformalDiario.

Cuidate out there Xela