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June 2009 Issue: Of Pig Bugs & Scandals

As the rains waterlogged Xela in May, a typically Guatemalan sense of2009-June-Cover resignation has set in. Sigh, it will rain every day. Our president will get away with murder. And the swine flu – may I please dub it the pig bug? – together with our never-ending political instability, is scaring away all the tourists, sayeth many in Xelajú. Despite the healthy flashes of rage in the protests against the big murder scandal, floop goes the umbrella and shrug go the shoulders to cope with the imminent long-term crisis. Así es en Guatemala. Qué Dios nos bendiga.

While the long-termers haven’t gone anywhere but to Champerico for the weekend, the short-termers tend not to come in May. In upper North America and Europe, most universities are still in session. Memorial Day in the U.S., the unofficial start of summer, didn’t happen until late May. June is when tourists start to move. Although accustomed to this rhythm, Quetzaltecos are still paranoid that a perfect storm has hoodwinked them.

Locals are probably right to fear the pig bug. Friends at Spanish schools speak of cancellations. The fear, however (thanks to media hype), is fully unjustified and unfair. As of this writing, only one case of pig bug has been reported in Xela, three in Guatemala – and 6700 in the U.S. Come hither to Xela, a haven of safety in a turbulent world!

The reality is that Guatemala, and especially Xela, interacts relatively little with central Mexico (i.e. pig bug ground zero). I venture to guess that more flu carriers fly from Mexico City to Houston or L.A. in a week than to Guatemala City in months. Then add the virus barrier that is the four-hour bus ride to Xela from Guate. In Xela, I have never met anyone from Mexico except Fernando at La Rumba, have you?

Meanwhile, Quetzaltecos can rest assured that their other big worry – the scandal surrounding the suspected murder of a prominent attorney by President Colóm and his wife – will remain buried or unmentioned, at least in the U.S. news media. Norteamericanos are pretty oblivious to international news that doesn’t involve suicide bombings or Bono. Whoa, chill out Teva-clad traveler, indeed you are more informed than most, but your system is well stacked against you knowing stuff beyond your borders.

News of political instability here may in fact keep more Euros away. My scientifically sound search of “Colóm Rosenberg Guatemala” resulted in nearly the exact same number of hits on Google’s U.S. and German news sites. That’s sad given the vastly larger world of English-language media.

Ay, pobre Xela, you deserve a break today.

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