For most Jacaltecos, family is their highest priority. Extended families, often including three or more generations, frequently live together, and it is the dream of most parents to build a house large enough to accommodate their children’s’ families when they are grown.With the strong focus on the family, it might at first seem contradictory that so many fathers leave their families and migrate to the United States. But almost without exception, every single Guatemalan we spoke to who had migrated, or even thought about migrating, said they wanted to leave in hopes of helping struggling parents or giving their children more opportunities in education.
Although rich in culture and heritage, Guatemala is a very poor country economically. Latin America is home to the greatest class disparity in the world, with 50% of the nation’s wealth held by only 10% of the population. In Guatemala 75% of the population lives below the poverty line – what the World Bank defines as an insufficient income to purchase the basic basket of goods and services for the minimum level of healthy survival for a typical family.
Read more about the World Bank’s measures of poverty here.
In the 1980s Guatemala faced a brutal civil war. Many people fled North as political refugees to escape the violence. Since the 1990s, however, most Guatemalans immigrating to the United States are economic refugees. As the Guatemalan economy continues to be subject to corruption and stagnation, jobs are scarce and possibilities to improve one’s economic situation are lacking. For these reasons, men and women continue to make the dangerous trek north with hopes of finding opportunities to help their families.
The irony, according to many economists, is that poverty in Guatemala and other Central American countries has been largely exacerbated by United States’ policies towards the region. In the last few decades, the upsurge in undocumented immigration to the U.S. from the region correlates strongly with the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA). CAFTA is now often termed CAFTA-DR as the Dominican Republic joined the agreement in 2004.
CAFTA-DR is a bilateral trade agreement between the United States and Central American countries of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic, that was signed in 2004 by President George W. Bush. “Free trade” refers to trade in which the price of goods reflects only the price based on supply and demand. Protections such as tariffs, taxes, and subsidies are not permitted on goods traded between nations participating in the CAFTA-DR agreement. According to conventional economic theory, free trade should be beneficial to all parties involved because each one specializes in making the product that requires the lowest opportunity cost, compared to all other trading partners. This should allow the most goods to be produced at the lowest cost, thus maximizing the amount of each good available to all trading partners.
However, many believe that CAFTA-DR has been harmful to both the citizens and the environment of Central American partners, as well as the United States. Free trade assumes some parity or equivalence between trading partners. In the case of CAFTA-DR, U.S. corporations are given considerable economic and political advantage. Therefore, the treaty serves largely to benefit U.S. corporations while displacing small farmers in Central America, who in turn must migrate to look for work.
The U.S. economy is enormous when compared with those of its CAFTA-DR trading partners. In 2003, it was nearly $11.8 trillion, accounting for nearly 3 quarters of the gross domestic product (GDP) of the entire Western Hemisphere. Meanwhile the combined GDP of all Central American countries before the agreement was estimated to be less than $100 billion, accounting for less than 1% of the United States’ economy.Sources:
“CAFTA-DR: A Focus on the Regional Impact”
“Why CAFTA-DR Faces Opposition”
Read more about CAFTA-DR and it’s predicted affect on Central America here:
Ed. by Markus Rodlauer, and Alfren Schipke.
Published by the International Monetary Fund, 2005.