HomeLatest NewsAmid poverty, loss, Guatemalans indifferent to elections

Amid poverty, loss, Guatemalans indifferent to elections

Chicacao , Guatemala: Builder Manuel Rojche does not know who to vote for in Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday. He does not really care.

Since his son died on the treacherous migrant route toward an American dream, Rojche has not paid much attention to the campaign.

Since his son died on the treacherous migrant route toward an American dream, Rojche has not paid much attention to the campaign.

“My family was complete… now it is destroyed, everything is destroyed,” the 46-year-old told AFP in tears at his home Las Siete Vueltas, a village in the municipality of Chicacao, about 100 kilometers (60 miles) west of the Guatemalan capital.

His 21-year-old son Francisco — the second of Rojche’s five children — died in a migrant detention center fire in Mexico on March 27 with 39 other people. Like hundreds of thousands who have left the poverty- and violence-stricken Central American country, Francisco had put his life at risk in search of work and a better future.

“Necessity compels one” to emigrate, father Manuel said in the rustic house he built with cement blocks and zinc.

“He said to me: ‘I’m going (to the United States) and God willing I’ll get there and I’m going to help you… because you’ve already worked a lot,'” Manuel Rojche said his son had told him.

In the family’s humble living room, there is a small altar with candles, flowers and photographs of Francisco, in whose footsteps Manuel fears his other children may now want to follow. “The truth is that right now, I’m scared. I’m so scared that someone will tell me: ‘I’m leaving,'” he said.

“It would be different if one could get a visa, if one could go by plane, it would change things.” ‘I need him’ Rosa Choc’s husband Miguel, 37, died in the same fire that claimed the young Rojche.

Both men were from the same village. She has not given much thought to voting either — something she had always done with her husband. “I got sick… I cried because he was not with me,” the 37-year-old told AFP.

“He was always with me when I got ill, but not now. (I’m) alone with my children and my mother, and I need him, I need him to take care of us.” She has no idea how to provide for her five children, aged the to 15, and her widowed mother.

Official data shows that about 10 million of Guatemala’s 17.6 million people live in poverty, compelling thousands to leave every year. A few lucky ones manage to settle in the United States, legally or illegally. But most are captured and deported back home.

The unluckiest ones die in the process, like the 19 Guatemalans among the 40 migrants who perished in the Mexico fire.

‘I couldn’t make it’

Manuel himself attempted the odyssey in 2018, only to be deported. He makes a living today building a house for someone else, not far from his own. He gets paid the equivalent of $12.50 per day, allowing him to cover the most basic necessities of his family.

Choc, on the other hand, has no work, nor other income. Her family survives on handouts, with Choc saying she had received no help from the government. Both families had entered into debt to pay for the fortune-seeking journeys of their loved ones, and the loans are now due.

“The presidents of Mexico and Guatemala, what I want is that they help me,” said Choc. “When this happened to my husband, they did nothing, they left them (the migrants) to die.” Security camera footage revealed that neither immigration nor security personnel attempted to evacuate the migrants from the burning building.

Among 379 Guatemalans who arrived back home Wednesday after being deported from the United States, there was similarly little interest in the elections. More than 21,000 Guatemalans have been expelled from the United States so far this year.

“I had this desire for the American dream, but now, well, I realize the suffering the journey entails and I prefer to stay here in Guatemala,” said Jose Raymundo, 26, as he disembarked from a chartered flight at an air base outside the capital. “I am happy (to be back) but also sad because I went there and I couldn’t make it,” said Glendy Escalon, 23.

Twenty-two candidates are in the running for Sunday’s first presidential voting round, with a dictator’s daughter, a former first lady and a UN diplomat in the lead. AFP

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