How’s COVID-19 Affecting our Brothers and Sisters in Guatemala?
by Trevor Thompson
Director of Justice and Peace, Catholic Community of St Francis of Assisi
Originally posted in church newsletter
One of the things I have been doing over this last month is checking in on my family members, colleagues, and friends more than usual. Life seems so disorienting, unpredictable, and fragile right now, and so somehow these conversations feel grounding. They also express well the sense of solidarity that we are all feeling right now, how small the world is, how interdependent we all are, how universal are our fears, anxieties, questions, hopes, and dreams.
In this spirit, one of the relationships I have been checking in on over the last month is with our Sister Parish, the village of Las Margaritas II (LM2) in Guatemala. We watch the news to get a sense of what is happening in our cities, states, and in our nation, but we likely get only a vague and piecemeal vision of how our brothers and sisters in other places are experiencing COVID-19. As many of you know, we have had a dear relationship with LM2 for over 25 years now. LM2 is a rural village of about 100 indigenous Mayan families located about a 10-hour drive northwest of Guatemala City. It might be fairly easy for us to imagine how our brothers and sisters in New York or Ohio or even Italy are faring, but what about our friends in Las Margaritas II, Guatemala?
Through a series of emails with Brian Tyler, the Sister Parish staff person who lives in Guatemala and our liaison with LM2, I have been able to get a bit of a picture of what things look in Guatemala and in the village in particular. I wanted to share this with you to enrich your sense of solidarity and prayer during this time.
In response to COVID-19, Guatemala has enacted a nationwide curfew 4pm to 4am, suspended all public transport, closed borders, limited transportation in private vehicles to 3 persons, limited the amount of people that are allowed in open air markets, restricted travel within country, and made it an obligatory by law to wear face masks in public.
Even before COVID-19, most people in LMII struggle economically, with farming as the main profession, which rolls on with the seasonality of life and the vagaries of weather and markets. At this point, the national restrictions have not prevented the village from continuing their planting, harvesting, and selling of their crops, but much depends on the future re-normalizing in terms of how things will affect them long-term. In order to supplement family income, many LM2 family members travel to and even live in neighboring urban areas, other farms, or in even in Guatemala City. With travel restricted and the economy halted, there is a great economic strain put on those who remain in the village and there is more pressure on farming to sustain their already tenuous existence.
At this point, most basic necessities are able to be secured in a town about 30 minutes away from LMII. The Guatemala government has made a decision to provide stimulus aid of 1,000 Quetzales (about $130) and some food aid to individuals, but LM2 community members are still in the dark as to whether this support will reach them. Many doubt that it will. At this point, there are only 200 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 5 deaths in all of Guatemala (0 cases in LM2). A large number of these cases are migrants who have been deported from the US over this past month who tested positive for COVID-19. There is very little access to COVID-19 testing in the country, and in areas like LM2, there is very poor health care and hospital infrastructure to support anyone who would be in need of extraordinary care. Guatemala’s economy relies heavily on agricultural exports and tourism, as well as the large amount of remittances sent by Guatemalans living in the United States to relatives in Guatemala. All of this is being affected in negative ways and will undoubtedly affect the most vulnerable most severely.
Although many of the Holy Week services and festivities were curtailed in Guatemala, LM2 continues to find solace in their new church they have been building over the last five years. They send us their prayers.
I invite you to please keep our brothers and sisters in LM2 in your prayers during this time when we are all feeling so distant and yet so connected.