Corruption in disbursement of pandemic aid leaves Guatemalans increasingly at-risk

By: Laura Robinson, Communications & Public Engagement Intern

Tropical depression Eta arrived in Guatemala this month after previously being classified as a category four hurricane. The storm lasted several days and brought a month’s worth of rain to several communities. This caused significant damage to roads, bridges, rivers, and homes. Many are still missing, displaced, and without their crops which are key to survival. 

Because of the damage caused across the Northern departments, communities are in need of humanitarian aid and support. On November 5th, Guatemalan president Alejandro Giammattei assured the country that unspent COVID-19 aid would be allocated towards a hurricane response; however, the disbursement of this aid has not been dutifully accomplished to-date.

As of the 25th of November, Guatemala registered over 120,000 COVID-19 cases and 4,133 deaths related to COVID-19; however, actual infection rates and deaths are likely higher than official numbers. By October, six months into the pandemic, only 3 of 10 Ministries had administered 50% of their COVID-19 aid. By the end of September, only 7.5% of the Food Aid Program had been distributed. And lastly, at the end of October it was announced that the third and final Bono Familia payment, offering economic support to families in need, would only be Q250 instead of the promised Q1000.

The Guatemalan government warns of a second wave crashing down on an already fragile health care and social assistance program. Instead of developing a new aid program for those impacted by the tropical storm, the government proposes reallocating aid. Across the country, protesters are asking the government “¿Dondé está el dinero?” (where is the money?) in response to government corruption and insufficient spending on social programs.

Guatemala is faced with a series of challenges and emergencies that have a multiplicative effect. Climate change, COVID-19, government corruption, and natural disasters occurring simultaneously are multiplying their associated harms. Each issue contributes to worsened outcomes for malnutrition, health, and elevated prices, thereby limiting the resources that individuals have to defend their rights. 

November brought a second tropical storm, Iota. As challenges mount and government corruption politicizes humanitarian aid, community resilience stemming from organizing and solidarity is necessary to overcome this series of challenges.

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