It all started when...

The United Nations Development Program's (UNDP) Human Development Report, Poverty Assessment: Good Performance at Low Levels, released on March 18, 2009, reports the following regarding poverty in Guatemala from 2000 until 2006: "Guatemala ranks among the lowest four positions (with Bolivia, Haiti and Guyana) for the overall Human Development Index, Infant Mortality rate, Under-Five Mortality rate, Maternal Mortality rate, Adult Illiteracy and Net Secondary Enrollment rates" (UNDP, 2009). During that period overall poverty in Guatemala decreased from 56% to 51% while extreme poverty remained at 27% (Sabrado, 2009). Out of 206 ranked countries on the CIA World Factbook website, Guatemala placed at 150 in per capita income, only ahead of Bolivia, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Haiti in Latin America.

The statistics listed below, also from the 2009 UN Human Development Report, demonstrate where poverty is concentrated in Guatemala:

  • 62% of children zero to six years old are in poverty;

  • 72% of overall poverty and 83% of extreme poverty are represented by rural populations;

  • 75% of the poor are indigenous;

  • Poverty among non-indigenous households decreased by the same amount as the national poverty rate, 5.2%, while indigenous poverty rates did not change;

  • The extreme poverty headcount did not change between 2000 and 2006, primarily due to the increase in food prices (Sabrado, 2009).

This excerpt of the World Bank's report summarizes what women and the indigenous are up against:

The poor, particularly the rural poor, women and the indigenous, are not able to fully participate in, or benefit from, the overall economic system. Therefore, improving employment and earnings opportunities is essential, and this depends largely on the actions of the private sector. Building the assets of the poor…is arguably the most important area for poverty reduction. Key assets include: education, health, basic utility services (particularly water and sanitation), rural roads and land-- a physical capital (The World Bank, 2004, p. 212).

According to a 2008 World Bank Report, people of indigenous descent are disproportionately regulated to lower-paying jobs, often agricultural in nature. Indigenous people who speak only their native language and have not learned Spanish also typically earn much lower incomes. This group faces considerable wage discrimination, even when the figures are controlled for industry type and human capital. There is also a wage gap between males and females although it is smaller than the gap in wages between indigenous and Ladino peoples. This gap will likely increase as agriculture shrinks in percentage of the GDP, a trend that has already started. Therefore, increasing agricultural opportunities is not a viable solution (The World Bank, 2008).