When my youngest daughter was in grade school, one of the movies we watched over and over and over again was Spielberg’s “The Land Before Time”. We can still quote from it things like “A great earthquake split the land” or the mournful “Well, at least we won’t have to be alone!”. It’s taproot is at once Primal and Archaetypal in that it deals with the traumatic separation of parent from child. Bambiesque, in other words, but with Dinosaurs.
Guatemala, where I had the good fortune to be assigned to the Peace Corps, is one of the most beautiful but tortured places on earth. It’s almost as if it’s maker said “I’m going to create a Paradise, but then populate it with people who will never get along.” Ironically, Guatemala has made a lot of progress reconciling its ethnically diverse population from the time I lived there (1971-73), although it took a brutal civil war which, much like the one that took more headlines next door in El Salvador, killed at least 100,000 people.
I ran into Vinicio Cerezo, Guatemala’s President from 1985-90, in El Salvador. He has a foundation now but earned his place in history by being the first President to willingly transition himself out of power through an election.
Today, Guatemala’s struggle is against a well-organized and funded criminal element, grown so bold that they have been known to come into Guatemala City’s best hotels and restaurants and relieve the guests of their possessions at gun point. The well-heeled residents of the city deliver their kids to school via armoured cars and bodyguards to discourage kidnappers. Extortion by cell phone is the latest means of siphoning off the business community’s legitimately generated wealth. In response, the people have elected Otto Perez Molina, a former general during the civil war, who has promised to use an iron fist to eliminate the gangs and drug lords, many of whom have fled from Mexico to Central America.
It’s a risky gamble by a people who, having lived through hell, are desperate for a little security.