Monday, October 08, 2007

More unequal than others

While 54% of Guatemalans now propose to vote for the cheque-cashing former General, 50% remain pessimistic that the country's situation will improve during the course of the next next administration. Mano Dura's message of security at any (moral) cost appears to be drowning out Colom's (somewhat garbled) message that the issue of rural poverty needs to be addressed as a priority.

Attempts to solve Guatemala's poverty problem with the sort of rising tide of development that lifts all boats are being undermined by the country's similarly rising inequalities of wealth. Guatemala may be Central America's largest economy, but it has also now surpassed Brazil as the most unequal society in all Latin America.

This year's Instituto Nacional de Estadistica (INE) Survey on Living Standards concludes that the number of people living below the poverty line (i.e. earning less than US$2.30 a day) has dropped only 5% since 2000, standing today at 51%. Most of these people however, are not the poorest of the poor, as 15.2% of Guatemalans live below the extreme poverty line (US$1.17 a day; in effect insufficient cash to feed oneself), a number which has decreased by only 0.5% over the same period.

According to the survey, 72% of the poor live in rural communities (with a strong bias towards the indigenous Maya), mostly in the western and northern regions. In contrast just 5% of urban Guatemalans live below the US$2.30 poverty line.

Around Huehuetenango poverty has actually increased to 55% (4% above the national average) and extreme poverty in that region has jumped from 8% to 20% since 2000. The central zone of the country has also seen increases in extreme poverty, but the problem of malnutrition is at its worst up in the Petén where 40% are listed as extremely poor.

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