We published an article last month about Laguna Lachuá —a paradise found in the remote jungles of Alta Verapaz. If you missed the story, Lachuá is an area that’s protected to preserve its biological diversity. The water and environment there, unlike most of Guatemala, are free from pollution and contamination. Unfortunately, this paradise might be lost if a new hydroelectic project is constructed there to promote development for the local population. Local leaders have signed off on the project, which will reroute a significant portion of a nearby river, the Ichbolay, which feeds into Laguna Lachuá.
There are currently some 20 hydroelectric projects in Guatemala. Although they should provide clean energy via Guatemala’s rivers, they disrupt local ecosystems and are often the sites of conflict and controversy.
These fights have become more intense in years past. Hydroelectric projects are now a hot-button issue contested by government officials, construction and power companies, and civilian populations affected by their construction. Companies often seek to build these projects without the blessing of the locals. The dams reroute local rivers, which can be catastrophic for local ecosystems. Environmental impacts and construction permits are obtained through methods ranging from shady to straight-up illegal. One of the poorest and most remote communities in Guatemala —Ixiquisis, in Huehuetenango —rose up in protest last month against their local hydroelectric project. An environmental activist and community leader aged 72 was shot and killed during the demonstration. It’s not entirely clear what happened, but locals say that the victim and other protesters were fired on by armed men unknown to the community.
The dam they were protesting was roundly rejected rejected by the community in 2009. The hydroelectric company Promoción y Desarrollos Hídricos S.A. started operations there anyways. Right now, it looks like the dam at Lachuá has the support of the community, but the future of the project is still uncertain. Guatemala’s conservation agency CENAP is firmly opposed to the project; so it the department at the University of San Carlos, who argue that the dam will harm the lake by blocking off an important sorce of water.
What’s happening at Lachuá is bad news for nature lovers. We hope that sharing the news of the proposed hydroelectic project will help in some small way and help you to understand that Guatemala isn’t just a postcard but a real place -one where the fight to protect the environment rages on.
An alternative avocado salsa
For me, avocados are synonymous with Guatemalan food. While guacamole is the most common way to serve up these savoury fruits, why not mix it up for your next Sunday Churrasco? This alternative avocado salsa has a sharp tangy flavour that makes it stand out from the rest. It keeps better than guacamole, and the parsley is packed with vitamina C.
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By Jalapeño Jacobo
Each month we send our field correspondent, Jalapeño Jacobo, to interview and harass one of Xela’s most infamous extranjeros to find out why the hell they’ve lived in Xela for so long (just kidding Xela, we love you.) This month we spoke to Guillaume Riboulleau, who is originally from southwestern France but is now stuck in (just outside of) Xela
When and why did you first come to Xela?
Ten years ago I set off traveling with the idea of going all the way from Mexico to Argentina, working on farms and learning whatever I could along the way. But I ended up finding Quetzaltrekkers here in Xela and decided to stay a bit longer than planned.
… And after that?
I only stayed for a year at first, but while I was here I met my current girlfriend, Maike.
Ahh, so that explains it.
Yea.. basically we spent a while living in Europe and visiting Guatemala periodically, but eventually we decided we wanted to settle in one place and start building something of our own. I didn’t want to live in her home country of Germany and she didn’t want to live in France and so here we are in neutral territory.
And have you been able to build something of your own?
Yes we have! In 2015 we bought a piece of land in the hills south of Xela, and we have since been developing the property to be as self-sufficient as possible, including cultivating much of our own food and building our own house using materials from the land.
What’s the goal of the project?
It’s hard to say exactly because it’s always evolving. We started with the basic idea of providing a place for university students to live close to Xela, and we already have three living with us. But we also really wanted to build something for ourselves and the community that would promote self-sufficiency and that would exist without outside funds. We also know that some day we hope to hand the project over so that it is 100% local.
And you’re also a famous panadero now?
Yup. We made a wood-fired oven on our property and we’re now using it to make delicious sour-dough bread that is sold weekly in Frutopia.
Do you have any recommendations on how best to consume your bread?
I would recommend it be consumed constantly throughout the entire day. I usually eat it with marmalade for breakfast, and then I eat it with cheese until there’s no more bread left.
Ed: This also happens to be Xelawho’s officially recommended consumption method for Guillaume’s bread.
How has Xela changed in your time here?
There used to be much more fiesta. There were several venues that would have concerts all the time and it was easy and normal to keep partying until four or five in the morning.
Wow, I would be jealous if I was physically capable of being awake after 1 am.
There’s also twice as many cars now, way too much traffic.
Well it’s a good thing you have your hideaway in the mountains.
Indeed it is!
Thanks for making your way down to chat with us, Guillaume!
With the highest number of Facebook users in Central America and a Twitter population growing by the thousands every month, social media can be a great place to find out what’s buzzing in Guatemala. Of course, there’s also a whole lot of nonsense posted online too, but at XelaWho we like nonsense so here are some of last month’s social media trends, with the interesting & the informative alongside the vacuous & the ludicrous.
Mexico has been rocked in recent weeks by gazolinazo protests —their national oil company Pemex raised the price of gasoline, and people took to the streets to protest in response. In Guatemala —which buys gas from Mexico —prices at the pump have also ticked up a few Quetzales. That adds gasoline to the long list of basic goods that have become untenably expensive. The Guatemalan treasury has kept the value of the Quetzal stubbornly pegged at a ratio of 7.5 to the dollar while markets want it to inflate, and the price of the canasta basica has risen steadily as a result.
To make matters worse, national power company Energuate, freshly resold to Hong Kong based holding company IC Power, is set to raise electricity prices once again. Guatemalan twitter users responded with #noalalza —“no to the rise” —in response to the government’s 2017 budget. They posted pictures of cardboard signs comparing the price of basic goods over the past decade to illustrate their point. “What’s happening here hurts everyone in the country aside from the politicians,” one tuitero said.
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P o p p i n g
Last month, Xelawho took readers for a ride through the dark carnival of modern politics —detailing the politically ascendant TV clowns who’ve come to power in the United States and Guatemala. The brother and son of Jimmy Morales, as we wrote in that editorial, are in trouble for their relationship to upscale Guatemala City restaurant Fulanos y Melganos. That restaurant billed the National Property Registry in Guatemala for a whopping 90,000 Quetzales —looking to taxpayers to underwrite meals that it seemed never happened.
Once Xelawho reported this story, justice came swiftly to the Morales brothers; Jimmy’s brother Sammy was promptly arrested and his son Jose Manuel turned himself in. Although the news was broken first by the Associated Press, Reuters, and several other international outlets less reputable and influential than Xelawho, our editorial staff is firmly convinced that we busted the case wide open.
We’ve been enthusiastically high-fiving one another and blowing kisses at ourselves in the mirrors of filthy cantinas across Xela for shining a light into the darkness and holding the powerful accountable here in Guatemala once again
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It’s a classic story: a duo of TV entertainers — with the help of plutocratic power brokers and racist reactionaries — run outsider presidential campaigns against the corrupt establishment. After their victory, the twist: instead of cleaning up politics, they do the complete opposite. It’s easier and makes for better television.
President-Elect Donald Trump ran against the dishonest media, the big banks, and the venal DC politicos. Then, he did an about-face and surrounded himself with their handmaidens. Trump’s senior advisor, Steve Bannon, isn’t just a white nationalist; he’s a former Goldman banker and publisher of Klan-friendly dog whistling at Breitbart. He’s not the only Goldman alum — so is Gary Cohn, Trump’s pick for the National Economic Council, and Steve Mnuchin, the proposed Secretary of the Treasury. Throw in three billionaires and millionaire Linda McMahon, who is married to Vince McMahon, CEO of World Wrestling Entertainment (a bonus billionaire for good luck!) That, my friend, is how you get money of politics.
The Guatemalan political establishment is also a tiny cabal of uber-rich kleptocrats, of course, but their power isn’t built on money: it’s built on blood. President Jimmy Morales ran in 2015 as a candidate for the FCN — a center-right party in Guatemala founded and funded by a group of retired military officers called AVEMILGUA.
They’re members of the same military-intelligence community whose sins and scandals brought down the administration of Otto Perez Molina. Luis Felipe Miranda Trejo, who founded the FCN, has his fingerprints on the mass graves of hundreds discovered at a military base in Coban. Edgar Justino Ovalle Maldonado, diputado and Jimmy’s political fixer, was an officer on the ground during the ethnic cleansing of Ixil Maya in the early eighties.
Morales appears untroubled by these grisly political realities, in part, because he has a more important historical atrocity that he claims as his number one priority — the theft of Belize from Guatemala. He’ll right this wrong alongside his Minister of Defense and Chief of Security, the Padilla brothers. Three Salvadoran politicians and their pilot were kidnapped, killed, and incinerated at a PNC blacksite on Padilla land back in 2007.
At Trump Tower, Belize is at best the number two priority. The main goal is fully postmodernizing the federal government. Incoming Labor Secretary and Carl’s Jr. CEO Andy Puzder has written op-eds about replacing his workers with robots. Rick Perry once tried to say that he’d eliminate the Department of Energy in a presidential primary debate, only to lose his train of thought mid-sentence on national TV. He will now be in charge of the Department of Energy. Scott Pruitt will lead the EPA — an agency who, as the AG of Oklahoma, he attempted to sue into oblivion.
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By Diana Pastor
Are you tired of climbing volcanoes and dodging microbuses? Ready for a new adventure? To kick off 2016, we’re recommending a place that’s well off the beaten path. It’s far enough afield from Xela that it doesn’t catch as many tourists. The name, Lago Lachuá, which means “Mirror of the Sky.” You can find it in a national park in Cobán, Alta Verapaz. It’s a full day’s travel from Xela, so we recommended bundling a visit to Semuc Champey or the caves of Lanquin to get the most out of your fare.
We recommend Monja Blanca buses for this trip — you can find them in Guatemala City via details that can be found in our handy bus section. Tickets are Q60 and will deliver you to Cobán after five or six hours of driving through forest, jungle, and desert. If you’re fancy or something, you can charter a shuttle in Antigua. Micros leave from Cobán’s northern terminal about once every half hour. Take the one headed towards Playa Grande Ixcán and let the driver know you’re going to the Lago Lachuá. The trip takes about three hours and costs 50q each way.
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By La Salsa Inglesa
This banana bread pudding, estilo chapín, makes for a delicious dessert. It is the kind of dessert that you will find it in Xela’s many traditional cafes served with whipped cream or ice cream, hot or cold.
The pudín has a light, spongy texture, contains zero added sugar, and can be made into a vegan dessert by changing the mantequilla for margarina.
5 large ripe bananas, peeled and mashed.
1 ½ cups coconut milk (one can)
½ cup unsalted butter/margarine, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg or cinnamon
¼ cup raisins
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By Jalapeño Jacobo
Each month we send our field correspondent, Jalapeño Jacobo, to interview and harass one of Xela’s most infamous extranjeros to find out why the hell they’ve lived in Xela for so long (just kidding Xela, we love you.) This month we spoke to Chris Alford, who is originally from Salisbury, England, spent almost five years in Xela, and sadly left us solitos us for Peru in December.
So when did you first arrive in Xela and why?
I arrived in Xela in January 2012, I had been living in England and looking for a development job anywhere I could find one. EntreMundos sent me an offer and so I set off blindly for a new life in Quetzaltenango.
And did you expect you’d still be here almost five years later?
I had no plan, at first I honestly found the city pretty underwhelming but after a few months I got to know the soul of the city. The really big, beautiful soul, full of wonderful people. And I was stuck.
And so what have you been up to all this time?
After two years with EntreMundos
I started working with Serjus which is a great organization serving to enable and assist political movements here in Guatemala. Mostly having to do with human rights, land rights, and causes of that nature.
And of course you’re also one of the fine editors whom I have the pleasure of working with, here at XelaWho
Yup, Including the arduous task of making sure Mr. Jalapeño turns his shit in on time.
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By Miss Adventures
Verb: move away aimlessly from a group or from the right course or place
Noun: a stray person or thing, especially a domestic animal.
I should have known better. I do know better. Sometimes I just enjoy the social experiment and finding out what will happen. Sometimes I just need to learn things the hard way. I met him at the park, an artesano from Honduras, on the road selling jewelry, juggling and spinning fire poi to make a buck. He was tall, dark and handsome. He was a bit mysterious, and incredibly charming. It only took two weeks before I let him in. We spent a lot of time hanging out at parque central and on my patio. We played music. We talked. We enjoyed a little hierba buena.
We often ate dinner together. He was too skinny, and I hate to eat alone. I never really felt like I let my guard down, but I had started to feel like we were friends. He always vaguely smelled of varsol or gasoline, but I just chalked that up to his fire crafts.
When he asked me to borrow Q250 my first response was to laugh and say no way Josue (*real name). After pleading his case and giving me some sob story about a sick mother in Spain I said, sure why not. He assured me this was only a loan and gave me an exact date of repayment. I lent him the money fully expecting to never get it back. I´m gullible, but I’m not stupid.
A couple of days later I was trying to get my life together after a weekend of chelas and chicharrones. I finally decided to get my Guate phone out so I could buy a new SIM card and start using it. That’s when I discovered my phone was gone. I ripped my whole place apart, searched in the daylight, with a flashlight, I didn’t want to believe it was true. We were friends, I thought. Mother fucker.
I was pretty mad. Furious, really. I made a plan. It just so happens there was a pirate-themed pub crawl that night, and as we swooped through parque central in head to toe pirate regalia, full of piss and vinegar and Quetzalteca, I took off my pirate hat, strolled up to his table of wares and casually pillaged his loot. Yarrr me booty!
Bromeando! That is definitely the revenge I planned, but unsurprisingly, this chico had already changed lugares and was long gone from Xela. A couple of his friends had told me they knew about the loan, and when I told them he stole my phone too they seemed genuinely surprised. They told me he was in Guate city and I briefly considered trying to track him down, but ultimately realized I was better off cutting my losses and taking it on the chin.
Moral of the story: Suck it up sucka. Every pirate just wants a little booty.