Culture

This Ancient Town Is Proving To The World That We Need To Add Guatemala To Our Bucket List ASAP

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With its stunning architecture and wild natural setting, this former colonial capital is among Central America’s must-visit destinations.

Nestled in the forested hills of southern Guatemala, the small city of Antigua was once the most prominent seat of Spanish colonial government between Mexico City and Lima, Peru. Founded in the early 16th century, it served as Guatemala’s capital for almost 300 years, until 1773, when it was abandoned by crown officials following a series of devastating volcanic eruptions, earthquakes, and floods.

In the mid-1800s, agriculturists took note of Antigua’s rich volcanic soils, and the city thrived once again, as a center of coffee and grain production. It was during this period that its canary-colored Santa Catalina Arch, built in 1694 as a walkway for nuns, received its domed clock tower, becoming Antigua’s most iconic monument.

In 1979, Unesco designated Antigua a World Heritage Site, ensuring the protection of its architectural and cultural legacy.

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Now, the city’s cobbled streets – arranged in an easy-to-navigate grid, with views of the stunning Volcán de Agua to the south and the twin peaks of Volcán de Fuego and Acatenango to the west – are lined with farm-to-table restaurants, contemporary art galleries and design studios.

Beyond the city’s lush Parque Central, these new additions are taking root near 17th- and 18th- century buildings – such as Las Capuchinas, a former convent that is now a colonial-era art museum.

The Santa Catalina arch is one of the city’s most famous landmarks.

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Antigua is well known for its rich colonial history and cultural attractions, but none are so iconic as the Santa Catalina Arch. Standing above the cobbled streets and in front of the hulking Volcán de Agua, this saffron-yellow arch has become the symbol of Antigua and the central image on most postcards.

To critics, it might just be another arch, but to locals, it represents the resilience of the city and a history that spans four centuries.

The city’s amazing architecture is only beat out by the city’s dedication to beautiful handmade textiles.

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Made using natural dyeing techniques and sold at workshops and bustling open-air markets across the city, fabrics, and textiles are a must-buy souvenir.

The entire region surrounding Antigua is also a hub of coffee production.

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Guatemala is known around the world for its great coffees and at Finca La Azotea, which has been producing coffee since 1883, visitors can learn more about one of Antigua’s most valuable exports.

During a tour of the property, which is certified by the Rainforest Alliance, coffee enthusiasts can see how the raw fruit – which grows in dense, shaded rows of trees – is cultivated, harvested and processed. A portion of the plantation’s profits benefits local education programs focused on the preservation of the environment and Guatemalan culture.

And some of the world’s best chocolates come from Guatemala.

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For chocolate lovers, Guatemala is a sweet place to be.

This is especially true in Antigua, where chocoholics can try chocolate bars, amazing truffles and liquor-filled bonbons. The city is full of artisanal sweet shops.

And as if this weren’t enough to tempt a sweet tooth, Antigua boasts its own chocolate museum. In addition to producing edible cacao products, the ChocoMuseo educates the public about the entire chocolate-making process through interactive workshops, beautifully crafted exhibits and entertaining tours.

The city is surrounded by jaw-droppingly beautiful volcanoes.

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As Antigua is known for its volcanic activity, it would be a mistake not to climb one. Pacaya is the easiest, and you’ll still get the excitement of seeing lava spew from the volcano’s mouth, as well as getting the opportunity to buy lava jewelry from the isolated gift shop near the summit.

And if you want to explore a bit more, Antigua isn’t too far from Lake Atitlan.

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A side trip to the magical, mysterious Lake Atitlán may seem like a long way, but the enchanting beauty of the water, which sits in a volcanic crater, is well worth it. It’s about 2½ hours by shuttle bus or you can catch the local “chicken bus” from the bus station at Calle Principal.

There are more than a dozen Mayan villages to stay in, but your best bet is Panajachel, a bohemian haven. It’s big enough to provide everything a visitor needs, but not so big that you can’t experience local culture.

With its towering volcanoes (accessible by challenging day hikes), booming coffee scene and bevy of boutique hotels, Antigua is quickly garnering appeal as one of the most enticing cities in Central America.

Mexico Tells The US There Will Be No ‘Safe Third Country’ Agreement And Here’s What That Means For Migrants

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Mexico Tells The US There Will Be No ‘Safe Third Country’ Agreement And Here’s What That Means For Migrants

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Over the summer, Trump came down hard on Mexico and other Central American nations in an effort to make his base happy by reducing migration to the US. He threatened to slap tariffs on billions of dollars worth of Mexican goods bound for the US unless Mexico did more to stem the flow of migrants making their way to the US border.

Mexico agreed and implemented several of their own inhumane policies targeting migrants and deployed a new national guard force to its southern border with Guatemala. Now, as apprehensions at the US-Mexico border have dropped, the US is still pushing for a ‘safe third country’ agreement with Mexico. And Mexico is saying no thank you!

Mexico’s Foreign Minister rejected calls for a ‘safe third country’ deal because other policies are already working.

Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard said that Mexico doesn’t need to take any new measures to reduce the number of undocumented migrants bound for the U.S. because the current strategy is proving successful.

Ebrard said Mexico’s efforts have reduced undocumented migration from Central America by 70% and that he expects the trend to be irreversible. Ebrard said he also told Trump that a Safe Third Country agreement, which would make refugees apply for asylum in Mexico before the U.S. and has been sought by acting Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan, doesn’t have support from Mexico’s Senate nor president.

The Foreign Minister led a Mexican delegation on Tuesday for meetings at the White House that included a brief conversation with President Donald Trump. Ebrard said that he explained the importance of the steps Mexico has taken since June, including the deployment of the National Guard, and also expressed concern about guns flowing south from the U.S.

Even Trump himself had praise for the ‘progress’ being made by Mexico.

Trump took to Twitter to tout the major decline in apprehensions at the Southern Border. Of course, in typical Trump fashion, he claimed credit for the decrease. Trump had threatened to slap tariffs on Mexican goods bound for the US back in June, unless Mexico played a more active role in preventing migrants from reaching the US border.

Since then, Mexico has bolstered its immigration enforcement, deploying newly formed National Guards units and other officials to its southern border with Guatemala. The government there has also worked with U.S. officials as the Trump administration expands the controversial “Remain in Mexico” program

A ‘safe third country’ agreement, like the ones agreed to by Guatemala and Honduras would put migrant’s lives at an even greater risk.

Although the two countries don’t have a safe third country agreement in place, Trump’s ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy is effectively the same thing.

A statement from Pence’s office after Tuesday’s meeting said the nations agreed to implement “to the fullest extent possible” the Migrant Protection Protocols, also known as “Remain in Mexico.” More than 42,000 non-Mexican migrants have been sent to Mexico to wait weeks or months for their U.S. legal processes since the program began in January, according to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Human rights advocates say this makes them vulnerable to the violence that plagues many of the cities on Mexico’s northern border.

And, meanwhile, the US court system has allowed the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy to resume for migrants who cross into New Mexico and Texas.

The Ninth Circuit court has temporarily lifted a nationwide injunction against President Donald Trump’s effort to deny asylum to immigrants who enter the U.S. after passing through another country.

The ruling basically lifted the injunction that was put in place blocking Trump’s expansion of the ‘Remain in Mexico’ policy. Now, with this ruling, Trump can expand his policy to the border states outside the Ninth Circuit’s jurisdiction – New Mexico and Texas.

One of the central arguments against safe third country agreements, is that it creates extra pressures on governments already struggling to help refugees.

Many experts say that Guatemala and Mexico lack the resources to handle so many asylum claims and point to State Department warnings that asylum seekers are at risk of violence in both countries. Many also say that such agreements don’t address the root causes that push people to flee and may just encourage them to find different routes to the United States.

Crimes against migrants largely go unsolved and unpunished.

The State Department’s own advisory for Tamaulipas (a state where migrants are returned to under the ‘Remain in Mexico policy) warns against all travel here. “Federal and state security forces have limited capability to respond to violence in many parts of the state,” it says.

“For us, for everyone, it’s very dangerous,” agreed Pastor Aarón Méndez Ruiz, who runs the Casa del Migrante Amar, a shelter in Nuevo Laredo.

Migrants have long been frequent targets of crime here. The risks are high enough that rather than let Mexican deportees walk from the border bridge to the state migrant reception center nearby, officials transport them in vans.

Criminals were making such easy prey of migrants coming and going from one migrant shelter that the federal police posted a permanent, round-the-clock sentry across the street.

Guatemala Is The Latest Country To Have Elected An ‘Outsider’ Politician And Here’s What That Means For The Country

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Guatemala Is The Latest Country To Have Elected An ‘Outsider’ Politician And Here’s What That Means For The Country

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This past Sunday, voters took to to the polls in Guatemala and voted in a new leader that will surely shape the country for the next four years. Alejandro Giammattei, a right-wing former prison chief, took victory in the presidential elections in Guatemala, winning nearly 60% of the vote over former First Lady Sandra Torres, who had 42% of the vote. The election was filled with many questions  and ultimately became a contest where Guatemalans viewed the election a battle between the worst possible options. 

Giammattei faced an uphill battle during the election cycle that many didn’t see him ending up on top considering this was his fourth attempt running for President. The 63-year-old spent several months in prison back in 2008, when he was then director of the country’s prison system, due to some prisoners being killed in a raid during this tenure. He would eventually be acquitted of wrongdoing.

“Today is a new period of the country,” Giammattei told supporters Guatemala City following his victory. “Those who voted for us, those who did not vote for us, and those who did not go to vote, it does not matter. Today we need to unite, today I am the president of all Guatemalans.”

Here’s what you need to know about Giammattei and why was elected to lead Guatemala.

Giammattei was at first viewed as a long shot to win the nomination but his get-tough approach to crime and his conservative viewpoints, which includes his strong opposition to gay marriage and abortion, won him over with Guatemalan voters in a presidential runoff. He ran on a platform with a promise to bring down violence, endorse family values and support the death penalty.

There are about eight million Guatemalans who are registered to vote in the Central American country. But the nation that has been hit with by poverty, unemployment and migration issues, had about 45% turnout which suggests widespread disillusionment and lack of confidence with the political process.

Giammattei will take office in January from President Jimmy Morales, who leaves a corruption-tainted legacy. He congratulated his successor and promised a “transparent and orderly” transition.

“I hope that during this transition the doors will open to get more information so we can see what, from a diplomatic point of view, we can do to remove from this deal the things that are not right for us, or how we can come to an agreement with the United States,” Giammattei, 63, told Reuters in an interview.

What does the election of Giammattei mean for Guatemala moving forward, particularly when it comes to immigration?

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One of the biggest issues facing Guatemala right now are the growing number of migrants that are leaving the country and heading towards the United States. At least 1% of Guatemala’s population of some 16 million has left the country this year due to a worsening economic situation and distrust in government. About 250,000 people from Guatemala were apprehended at the border since October, according to to U.S. Customs and Border Protection. 

Back in July, the Morales’ administration signed an agreement with the U.S. that would require Salvadorans and Hondurans to request asylum at a port of entry in Guatemala. This was done in part to slow the number of migrants that were crossing through the country to reach the U.S. The new administration will have to figure out what to do with the agreement which could have huge ramifications when it comes to the inflow of Central American migrants coming to the U.S. border. 

This all will mean that Giammattei will need to negotiate with President Trump, who last month threatened to impose a travel ban, tariffs on exports and even  taxes on migrants’ remittances if the country did not work with him on immigration reform. But that relationship won’t be an easy task as many, including  Giammattei don’t agree with the deal. 

“It’s not right for the country,” Giammattei told NBC News. “If we don’t have the capacity to look after our own people, imagine what it will be like for foreigners.”

There are various takes on which direction Guatemala will go in with a new leader at the top. 

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As a new era in politics takes shape in Guatemala many are reflecting on the possibilities and the economic effect the election may bring. Many in the country wanted change at the top due to the prior administration and the corruption that it was constantly wrapped in. 

“I decided to vote against Sandra Torres because of the accusations of corruption,” Rosa Julaju, an indigenous Kaqchikel woman, told Al Jazeera.”I hope Giammattei confronts the violence in our country. I voted for him for better security.”

Whatever the reason to vote, it’s clear the country is moving in a new direction that many hope will bring prosperity and more job opportunities. But that will all rest on Giammattei who is in control of a country that is just looking to get back on it’s feet after years of corruption at the top. 

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