«While the world was falling apart, Guatemala grew,» concluded Alejandro Giammattei, president of Guatemala, because after the pandemic passed through Guatemala, the Government was optimistic. but citizens and monitoring organizations show the blows to the economy and the health system nowadays.
By: Diana Fuentes.
In the peripheries or interior of the country, the Covid-19 virus mercilessly reached all corners of Guatemala. Discouraged months were lived because many lost their family, friends, and acquaintances every day due to covid19.
The National Institute of Statistics estimates that there are 17 million inhabitants in Guatemala, and the municipality of Mexico has a significant demographic density in the country in the context of trade and transportation, it was one of the municipalities that until November 14, 2020, it was in red with the highest rates of people infected with covid19. According to the free press.
Mexico is located 17km from the capital city; according to the National Institute of Statistics of Guatemala, it has 507,549 inhabitants.
We decided to look for stories of families in this municipality and understand what their conditions were and how they lived through the pandemic despite being very close to the city, the precariousness and discrimination during the pandemic left deep marks on the residents, we found a family that tells us about the brutality of what they suffered.
The lives that the pandemic took in Guatemala
The confinement began on March 13, and two months later the Paz family experienced the virus firsthand, claiming the lives of 4 members of their family.
Marta Lucila Paz Monroy, 71, a housewife from this place, shares what it was like to lose her sister, brother-in-law, nephew, and niece.
In an interview, Martha and her husband tell the story:
Does the health system in Guatemala really advance?
According to the 2021 government report, progress within the Guatemalan Social Security Institute (IGSS) is detailed during 2020:
Increase in the number of additional health personnel, 1,606 additional contracts.
The Guatemalan Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MSPAS) increased its capacity to 50 clinical laboratories in the hospital network and 29 DAS for the screening and detection of Covid-19.
The authorization of six mobile laboratories in Guatemala City.
However, the population reported the opposite with videos in which even unionized IGSS workers denounced the precariousness, during the critical months and recently demonstrated the lack of supplies to carry out their work, contradicting what the president stated.
For its part, the business sector, in a press conference this past October 17, the Cacif Budget Observatory detailed a budgetary analysis of the IGSS and highlighted the importance of the state’s contribution to the entity to strengthen attention to Guatemalan citizens. .
“The IGSS, which was the conduit for its mobile laboratories, carried out tests in 43 medical units located in the metropolitan and departmental areas. These units in response to the considerable increase in COVID-19 cases between June and August 2021, «according to the government report.
Measures to face the pandemic in Guatemala
Hospitals during the emergency had to bury hundreds of patients who died from Covid – 19 as NN. The exact data is not available because they only had a period of 6 hours to bury those who died and only the La Verbena Cemetery was operating in Guatemala City.
Faced with this, little by little, the Government was enabling new cemeteries.
The 2021 government report published in January 2022, details the progress made to contain the pandemic in Guatemala.
“To strengthen the capacity of the Ministry of Public Health and Social Assistance (MSPAS), for the period from January to December 2021, 6,921 people were hired in addition to the permanent staff, distributed 3,146 people through 28 Health area directorates ( DAS), and 3,775 in 36 hospitals”, he indicates.
On September 13, 2021, the National Emergency Law for the Care of the COVID-19 Pandemic (Legislative Decree 11-2021) was approved,9 with the aim of “setting legal provisions for the acquisition of medicines and hospital equipment, as well as the hiring of doctors and technical personnel to care for Guatemalans affected by COVID-19”.
The government report highlighted that this law allowed the MSPAS and the IGSS to improve the supply of medicines and supplies and have more specialized personnel for hospital and outpatient care and treatment, as well as expanding the coverage of prevention measures; among them, the strengthening of vaccination posts at the national level.
Cuts in prevention and treatment of Covid -19 and in health infrastructure
Regarding vaccination, there have been a series of strong controversies, from the delay in delivery, advance payments, return of money and expiration of the vaccines, all this around the Russian government and its embassy in Guatemala, several local media have made a series analysis of the situation, the findings are worrying and the government’s secrecy regarding the issue remains.
According to the Central American Institute of Fiscal Studies (ICEFI) released a more recent report called Budget Execution Analysis for the first semester of 2022 and reveals the following table on the execution of health programs executed by the state.
Source: Central American Institute of Fiscal Studies.
The ICEFI report shows concern about the budget cuts during 2022, in several of its important programs, in this case the infrastructure of the Health sector, with a decrease of 12.7% and for the prevention and treatment of Covid – 19 in a 154.1%.
The MSPAS showed difficulties in executing even these cut budgets, since at the end of June it had executed only 12.1% of the current budget for the health infrastructure program, 12.9% of the allocation for the public acquisition of vaccines against COVID-19.
Problems in the vaccination program due to the pandemic in Guatemala
It is emphasized by the press that there are holes in said vaccination plan according to the newspaper The newspaper on July 8, 2022 highlighted «The scientific journal Nature highlighted the mismanagement of the Government of Guatemala to vaccinate the population against COVID-19, noting that only about 35 percent of people have been vaccinated with the full schedule.”
In some indigenous communities, people responded to the call to get vaccinated. In August 2021, at the Aldea Porvenir health center, Comitancillo, San Marcos, Fidel García was queuing at the health center to be treated. He tells us «if I’m going to get the vaccine here, all the people want to get vaccinated and all my family got vaccinated.»
Another 18-year-old Rolando Pérez Agustín, who was observing what was happening outside the vaccination center in the village of El Porvenir, told us “for the moment I heard that the vaccine has finished and some people left here”.
The government report highlighted that with the National Vaccination Plan, in order to obtain the necessary doses to comply with this plan, President Alejandro Giammattei carried out various efforts, agreements and public negotiations, on September 21, 2021.
With the purchase, receipt of donations or combined mechanisms such as COVAX (Global Initiative for Equitable Access to Vaccines), they have made it possible to have a frequent entry of vaccines to satisfy the needs of the Guatemalan population.
However, for Juana Ajsoc, a resident of Santa Clara, La Laguna, Sololá, the vaccines were not enough to complete her vaccination schedule: «It is the reality of Guatemala, sometimes the vaccines do not arrive, I waited more than a year for the second dose, I don’t know what happens in my case one is taking control, many waited a year to get the second dose «
The supply at the national level was slow; many even traveled to Mexico to access vaccines because it was faster and easier to get vaccinated, unlike Guatemala. According to a note from the newspaper El Periodico.
Other populations made the decision to wait or not to get vaccinated because they heard several cases where people died at the moment or days after being vaccinated. These rumors spread rapidly in some towns and created terror and resistance to injecting.
El Porvenir Village Health Post. Photo: Diana Fuentes.
Mourning for losses
The loss of relatives and the suffering during 2020 and 2021 due to Covid-19 are still felt in Guatemalan homes.
Marta Paz tells us that her niece, 35-year-old Nancy Bautista, after having Covid-19 during May 2020, developed cancer and within a month died on August 21, 2021, leaving an orphan girl.
“Unfortunately, only my niece’s daughter who died a year ago was left, she was left alone, alone, only a puppy that they gave her was her company, because they locked us all up, all close but we could not go out and what could we do, the doctor said They can’t get out, and God bless the people, even the police wanted to post it because they said we were going out and not before God, the doctor told us when we were locked up, we complied,” Marta narrates.
When the girl’s mother, who was 10 years old at the time, died, she stopped eating and sleeping.
«It hurt a lot, the girl was crying and also she wasn’t sleeping, if I saw her now as skinny, skinny because her mother’s death affected her,» and the worst thing is that the health authorities did nothing, they did not refer her a psychologist, and the doctor knew that the minor was alone, says Marta Paz.
Hunger in confinement
Maria Lucila Paz, inhabitant of Mixco, a municipality renowned for its chocolate production. Photo: Diana Fuentes.
For Marta Paz, the confinement meant, as for other Guatemalans, a period of anguish, because, locked up as they had to be, they had no way to go out to get money and food to survive.
However, the Government stated that “for the protection of mildly ill patients, we distributed more than a quarter of a million outpatient treatment kits free of charge. We distributed 625,000 food rations delivered to families nationwide within the framework of the Food Support and Pandemic Prevention program.”
Likewise, they enabled 2,279 beds dedicated to the care of COVID-19 and in a greater response capacity with hospital equipment for patient care.
Despite the actions of the national government, hunger and poverty increased in the country, according to the World Bank, «it is estimated that the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic increased the poverty rate to 47.8 percent of the population in 2019 to 52.4 percent in 2020».
Also, the World Bank indicates that this increase would have been two or three times higher without the government’s response.
The economic crisis due to the pandemic in Guatemala
The economic crisis caused by SARS-CoV-2 in Guatemala during the last 32 months. It was compared by experts with the great depression of the 1930s.
Unemployment is a reality during and after the pandemic
It is estimated, according to the last census, that 70% of the population is engaged in informal work; these high levels of informality translate into tax evasion and tax fraud; here it includes smuggling, money laundering and tax evasion. They are structural problems.
It is estimated that during 2020, the formal jobs that were lost rose to 60,939. According to the portal of the Association for Research and Social Studies (ASIES), some people had to reinvent themselves and thus managed to bring livelihood to their homes.
Ingrid, 25, originally from Santa Clara la Laguna, is the oldest daughter in the family and the only one who had an income in her home, tells us how her working life changed when the pandemic began in Guatemala.
“I was working in a business when he gave us the news that we all had to rest and that the store was going to close; it made us sad because it was the income we had for the family and months went by, everything got worse. I got depressed and anxious not because of the disease but because of the income and the debts in the banks”, narrates Ingrid.
Measures lacking in the face of the crisis
In 2019 the budget was not endorsed by Congress, and in 2020 last year’s budget was in force and the expansion of Covid-19 was made; the amount is 30 billion quetzales were generated by loans, of these. 12 billion quetzals for Covid-19 and 5 billion quetzals have been executed to date.
But none of the budget expansions modified the tax revenue goal, so the goal says that what should have been collected for this year is 64 thousand 27 million quetzales, or 64 billion; this was the goal for 2019.
The SAT (Superintendency of Tax Administration) had an extremely easy goal to achieve, assuming that the collection and production for 2020 would be without any pandemic, because every year the economy grows and this is called the vegetative growth of the collection or inertial growth in a scenario where nothing had happened, according to expert José Ricardo Barrientos.
The impact of the pandemic has generated a fairly large loss of tax revenue
ICEFI calculated that 6 thousand eight hundred thirty-eight point five million quetzales have already been lost; that is to say that of those 64 billion, 6.8 have already been lost. A considerable loss and as the economy continues to deteriorate, this gap of 6.8 billion quetzals may continue to grow.
One of the focuses in the country was the economy, since for the governments of Central America and especially Guatemala, a vital element during the pandemic was maintaining a stable economy that will not affect foreign investment in the country.
A wounded economy
The Guatemalan economy has received a major blow from the pandemic; experts believe that the impact has not yet finished and the wound is still open.
Everyone is talking about economic recovery and reopening, but the damage to the Guatemalan economy and tax revenues continues to be great, according to statements by expert José Barrientos.
But how much is 6.8 billion quetzales? And what instances are covered with this amount of money?
We give an example: the total annual budget of the Ministry of the Interior, including the police and migration, is 6 billion; so the loss is much greater than the full budget of the Ministry of the Interior.
The size of the hole due to the economic contraction with the impact of the pandemic is immense; it is basically the size of the budget of the Ministry of Communications, Infrastructure and Housing.
According to experts from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the outlook is not optimistic and they consider the future as «an unusually high degree of uncertainty regarding projections.»
For its part, ICEFI, given the warnings and ignorance of the population, recommends that the SAT protect its taxpayers in times of crisis.
Some have not stopped being punctual with their payments, but they should consider that if there are taxpayers who have the capacity and do not pay their taxes, the defaulter, the cheater, the liar or the evader, must have a sanction or also consider those who they did pay in normal times but with the crisis it was no longer possible, suggests José Barrientos.
Catastrophic scenarios that the pandemic has left in Guatemala
And at this moment not even the best economists and most prepared experts in the world have been able to give an answer.
The Monetary Fund currently says that the crisis is like no other with an uncertain recovery and the IMF projections are catastrophic for 2020 but point to some recovery in 2021, but they have a very severe warning, and that is what is worrying because it seems that the government of Guatemala is not heeding the warning, and it is that there is an unusually high degree of uncertainty around the projections.
In the 1930s, many people, due to job loss and the crisis that engulfed the world, made the decision to commit suicide. Historians stressed that at that time they began to see people jumping from the roofs of Wall Street from the 44th floor.
Currently, with economic growth of -2.5% ±1% in 2020 projected by Bang uat, ICEFI estimates: Loss of 206,117 jobs, 70% in the informal sector (micro, small, and medium-sized production units), the 61,835 formal jobs lost would be equivalent to to the average generation of employment in 2 years 3.
The most affected sectors would be: Agriculture, livestock, forestry, and fishing. Manufacturing industry, wholesale and retail trade; alarming impacts estimated by ICEFI.
Going back to the past, the domino effect was rapid and more than two thousand banks had failed, the great depression began like the current one and mass bankruptcy, massive unemployment at that time madness and human greed became visible with more weight because quickly fascism and communism advanced, culminating in World War II.
It seems that these catastrophic scenarios of that time are repeated and the war between Russia and Ukraine exploded during this year; it seems that the uncertainty in the current world panorama will continue.
With the slogan «Guatemala does not stop»
President Alejandro Giammattei delivers a more promising and encouraging speech, in the delivery of the 2021 report, he says:
«We made difficult decisions and thanks to that, today we have a balance between attending to the emergency and boosting an economy that shows signs of dynamism, expansion and growth.»
The president also stressed that «while the world was falling apart, Guatemala not only resisted, but also grew. And this is not an achievement of the Government, this is an achievement of all Guatemalans. Without a doubt, a historic achievement is economic growth of 7.5% of the Gross Domestic Product. In the midst of the pandemic. For this, countercyclical measures were taken by the monetary and fiscal authorities. Today we continue to be a macro economically stable country, and it has been ratified by the risk rating agencies positively with a solvent and solid financial system, which guarantees and generates confidence for investors”.
Some statements that contradict the previously mentioned reports
As regards the role of citizens in preventing the spread of Covid-19, the Government applauded the responsible citizens who have been vaccinated because thanks to this it has been seen in the reduction of infections and deaths, allowing a greater reincorporation of workers to the productive sectors.
The advance in health for the government is mainly emphasized in the expansion of the temporary hospital of Parque la Industria in Guatemala City and highlights that in the last 4 months of 2021 the drop in infections reached up to 95 percent.
For Guatemalans, staying in the face of the pandemic has been a feat, after what they experienced in the face of the loss of family members and permanent uncertainty due to the lack of work and health, people are still seen on the streets asking for food with their white flags, it was a code that families used during 2020 and hung these flags in the window of their house, so that people could help them with food, for some it could have been a moment of prosperity but for others it was only death and unemployment.