Friday, March 13, 2020


I’m sure Victor Hugo had other ideas for how his first year back in the hot seat was going to pan out. Now he and his crew are facing the onset of the biggest economic crisis in the city’s recent history. 

There are some decisions that absolutely need to be taken that absolutely won’t be. It’s just the nature of things here.

Yet the Municipality is not completely toothless. The economic expansion of Antigua over the past couple of decades has been unnecessarily disordered. There is no reason that the contraction has to be. 

The responses outside Guatemala have so far been a little disjointed both from governments and other entities within affected societies. The line between self-interest and self-preservation doesn’t always fall in the same place. We’ve seen quite a lot of too little too late but also some too much too soon. Most competent states are now working to delay the virus, in effect prioritising their healthcare systems over the wider global economy. 

All things considered, international leisure travel is highly unlikely to return to anything like normal levels in 2020, even if the pandemic turns out to be a single wave affair. So our local tourism sector is in for a protracted downturn. 

The Municipality should already be planning for a process of triage. They could compile a register of local businesses and assess them across a range of criteria, such as social value and how much of a buffer they may already possess against the fall in trade. They could also establish an emergency fund and look at other ways to safely sustain a basic level of activity in key sectors. 

Many parts of our local economy have long been over-saturated, so it’s not entirely callous to note that some sort of cull would be at least partially beneficial. 

Antigua has surreptitiously and insidiously developed a virtual version of the Cuban two tier currency system, where a given quantity of the quetzales in circulation are in effect dollars in disguise. 

Too many of the businesses that have sprung up to cater for the now vanishing foreigners appear to be based on charging consumers near first world prices whilst rewarding staff at depressed third world levels. This is almost entirely bad for the development of the country. It works to expand the gap between the informal and formal economies and between the lower middle classes and the more established white collar sector. 

If the Mayor and the Muni are smart, they will look to guide the process of retrenchment such that it is not the most vulnerable local participants in the economy who end up suffering the most. 


norm said...

We always called it the Antigua price. There is some of that out at the lake as well.

"Too many of the businesses that have sprung up to cater for the now vanishing foreigners appear to be based on charging consumers near first world prices whilst rewarding staff at depressed third world levels."

We were in Ticul Yucatan some years ago, went into a central square eatery, grabbed a menu off the table, had it torn out of our hands and were handed an English language menu with prices that were three times the local rate. I mean you look at the prices first and they are in a common lingua franca just about everyone understands. We were visiting ruins, using Ticul as a base for something like a week, we waved everytime we went by that week.

I've eaten some crazy cheap meals on the road in Guatemala and even then, you'll see the waitress get a little cow eyed with the bill wondering if this gringo is going to pitch a fit over the price gouging . I pay what they ask, it is not any kind of problem but one has to wonder, How low can it go,where these souls are still able to make enough to live?

Inner Diablog said...

There’s always the notion that gringos should not expect to arrive at the same price point as people earning a third or less, but these income comparisons are dangerous, because most of the gringos are consuming in the budgeted context of a vacation and have outgoings back home that many here could not even begin to imagine. And fundamentally it fosters this two tier economy in places like Antigua.

V and I were yesterday debating the likely economic impact of the pandemic here. Much as we’d like it, Antigua won’t go back to being the place where we met 31 years ago. One of the more prominent business owners here, a Texan who has gone native called Jake Thurgood (Pappy’s) suggested that even prior to the outbreak locals like him reached the conclusion that a 50% drop in income would kill off 80% of local businesses. Yet the majority won’t vanish, they will simply be resurrected eventually under newer, more solvent ownership. Antigua has become used to prostituting itself. What we may now see is more of the locals who rented out space to gringos, taking back control and attempting to run the opportunity themselves. (A bit like the plot of Narcos Mexico, season two!)