After winning its independence in 1847, Guatemala underwent a century of violently changing leadership, coups and complex election cycles. The country began liberalizing its economy at at the turn of the 20th century, while Guatemala’s leadership commenced what would become a disastrous relationship with the United Fruit Company (UFCO). Eventually, Guatemala’s presidents had conceded so many of UFCO’s demands, granting land and waiving taxes, that the company owned more land than any other group or individual in the country. UFCO also owned Guatemala’s only railroad, only electric utility and Atlantic port. This decades-long land grab displaced thousands of farmers, in favor of banana plantations.
Eventually, an agrarian reform bill, among other efforts to liberalize economically, caught the eye of the United States. Guatemala was viewed as a potential communist threat, and suffered CIA-sponsored terrorism throughout the second half of the twentieth century. The infamous “Death Squads” slaughtered thousands of peasants and indigenous people throughout the countryside, while a major earthquake in 1976 killed 25,000 more. State-sponsored terrorism, scorched-earth warfare, genocide and “disappearances” continued through the 1990s. At least 45,000 people fled over the border to Mexico, while at least one million people were internally displaced.
In the past 20 years, Guatemala has had stable elections, but has experienced devastating natural disasters including earthquakes, tropical storms and hurricanes. CWB -USA has worked in Guatemala in response to natural disasters, as well as the ongoing ramifications of political instability.
CWB – USA’s first project in Guatemala focused on a mural-painting workshop for local children. The art program fulfilled the need for a healthy and expressive activity for these children, the poorest of the poor, who had such a strong desire to paint and learn. Other projects have served communities heavily afflicted by HIV/AIDS. Using performances and interactive workshops, teams helped to raise awareness for the youth and their teachers. When Hurricane Stan struck in 2005, causing massive destruction and loss of infrastructure, volunteer performers toured the region where 1,000+ lives were lost. Further touring in the western highlands of Guatemala has been in service to indigenous Mayan people, most of whom live in extreme poverty. The area is also plagued by a high level of violence, echoing from the genocide perpetuated by the Guatemalan military junta.
Our Work Here
Started in 1996
8 Projects Completed
17,390 People Served