Bezaleel means “under the shadow of God” and is the name of a school in Guatemala where Galen Lehman did volunteer work in July, 2008. #2 in a series of posts on what he learned there.
Last week, I wrote how Guatemala’s indigenous people are mostly poor and often discriminated against by wealthy landowners of European descent.
But, there’s another group adding to their suffering. It’s me, my family and my friends! As it turns out, many Guatemalans believe that the economic, military and cultural power of the USA is tearing at the fabric of their lives.
Here are some examples of how this plays out, given to me by my Guatemalan hosts:
- The Free Trade Agreement destroys locally-owned industries by allowing the free import of mass-market goods. NAFTA has been much maligned in the USA, but our hosts told us that the detrimental impact on Guatemala has been much, much worse. It empowers American corporations with tremendous influence over Guatemalan government and policy. Many people in Guatemala believe that the machinations of American corporations helped cause the 36-year civil war that just ended in the 1990’s. They also pointed to new Guatemalan laws that make the maximum penalty for copying DVD’s harsher than the maximum penalty for manslaughter.
- The US military has rights to enter Guatemalan land, air and territorial waters for drug interdiction. Can you imagine the US giving such rights to any other country? Years of paramilitary atrocities by local right-wing militias have terrorized the people. Our hosts told us that just seeing US military maneuvers on their soil hurts Guatemala’s chances for democracy.
- The US cultural influence is over-whelming. The value systems of America’s R-rated movies are replacing traditional values even in remote villages. I saw amazing evidence of this in my travels and will write more about it more in the future.
The Guatemalans I met were welcoming and friendly. They know and love the American people. Unspoken in their warmth was a simple question: “Why do the kind and gracious American people allow their government and corporations to behave in this way?”
They even had ideas on how to help things improve.Â For one thing, they begged us to shop locally. They believe the big multi-national corporations are too powerful. By encouraging small family-owned businesses in our neighborhoods and communities, we undermine the powerful and help bring stability to the world.
And of course, this is a big election year in America.Â There are many important issues at stake. We have our own economic problems, a health care system in shambles, and a war in Iraq that it increasingly seems no one wants. They asked me to add one more concern:Â Remember that the decisions we make in November may affect them and other people in ways we cannot imagine.
What I learned in Guatemala is that I must live my life thoughtfully and remember that lots of good people in many places have a stake in every decision I make.
Next Week: Read about the tug-of-war between traditional values and modern culture.