Fun in the Sun: Health workers Fired and Lynchings Up

But hey, new fighter planes from Israel might be on the way, so buck up
Guatemala, less you think anyone is getting soft on crime.

Indeed, lynchings have gone up in 2013 over 2012. A pretty disturbing trend – possibly one of the most in a country that has been short on good news of late. Political kidnappings of community leaders and union leaders has continued, with the police and military implicated in many of these cases (especially those when community leaders vocal against the forced displacement of citizens to make way for mining are stuffed into green helicopters and not seen again). These are the cases, and their short life span in the news cycle, that have indigenous communities from Huehue to Toto frustrated, and in a fighting spirit.

But these are not the same places where lynchings are occurring. The article linked above cites a market in Zone 4 (Guatemala City) as a bit of an epicenter. Yet as the comments make clear, people are almost unanimous in their agreement that the increase (I don’t want to call it a ‘spike’, as that implies a temporary aberration) in lynchings is the result of a lack of a trustworthy justice system and too few police. Can it really be this simple?

After all, the Molina government has increased the number of cops, their training, and patrol cars. As discussed in other posts, there have been some impressive judiciary wins. And, while not scientific, no Guatemalan that I know would willingly jump into a fray to physically afflict physical harm on anyone (and in the city, my friends tell me that the cops are OK – “try getting pulled over in Honduras” my one friend told me, praising the relative honesty of cops in Guatemala in the process).

As someone, given my stage of the game, who is increasingly preoccupied with methodology (and despite my completely unscientific anecdotes above), the assumed link between a “lack of justice” and the phenomenon of lynching in Guatemala demands more scrutiny. Some Mayan communities have indeed been the sight of lynchings in the past, which anthropologists and historians (See Seider 2011, and Godoy 2006, for examples) have linked to everything from civil war legacies, Mayan Law gone wrong, and the push-pull tension of Mayan communities reestablishing their autonomy in a muddled state-society context. But apart from these mostly isolated incidents, crime, including lynchings, are highest in non-Mayan-dominated departments and communities. And other highly organized and aggrieved communities, like in Toto, have not given way to such eye-for-eye pioneer justice, at least not violently (and let’s not forget that the police have been victimized as well). So what gives?

I am not prepared to say! But it will take a serious social science endeavor — perhaps employing List and Spiekerman’s proposed methods of individualism/holism reconciliation (APSR Vol 7, no 4, 2013 for you really wonky cats out there) — in order to explore where micro-level/psychological motivations intersect with group dynamics and social forces. In any case, I do not buy, at least without better proof, the conventional wisdom that the lack of security inherently leads to more lynchings.


In other exciting news, a brief visit to a contact in SESAN today told me that government has finally laid off thousands of health workers, at least in Sololá, if not throughout the country. This has not been reported in news outlets as far as I can tell, and I’m not sure why. Even SESAN was coming to grips with the implications, and even the facts. They were in fact forced to “call around” in order to verify and indeed confirmed that, as they called ‘puestos de salud’ throughout the department, people had been laid off and some were even shuttered as a result. The laid off are part of the privatized/contracted work force that the government uses to deliver basic health services. In places, this accounts for 95% of available health workers/resources, so the lay offs — coming, by the way, after months of not being paid — has a huge impact on local health outcomes (and simultaneously making a sham out of Hambre Cero I can’t help but add). The Sololá hospital was urging parents, according to my source, to NOT bring their sick and hungry children there, as their compromised immune systems may not be able to handle some of the burlier infections lurking around the hospital already – including meningitis specifically. The SESAN worker suspected a liquidity problem. I wonder what these Israeli fighter jets costs anyhow…?

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2 thoughts on “Fun in the Sun: Health workers Fired and Lynchings Up

  1. I have to agree with your friends on the relative honesty of the police here.
    As for the health workers being laid off, there is an article from Prensa Libre today,
    I wrote a little blurb about it here
    But either way, you’re info is correct (or at least in line with what the article says).

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