Things That Matter

Water Pollution In This Guatemalan Town Dropped 90 Percent After The Town Banned All Plastic

The residents of San Pedro La Laguna have witnessed their town’s lake go from a garbage dump to its original pristine alpine condition within just three years. Why? In 2016, the entire town and its municipal government took on a monumental task: no new plastic would enter the town. Three years later, Lake Atitlán is clean, and plastic waste in the lake has reduced by 90 percent. It took all 10,000 residents of the town to fully commit to completely eliminating their use of plastic in order to revitalize Lake Atitlán, but it was worth it.

“Quitting plastic has not been an easy task,” resident Taira told Naturaleza Gurú, “but you just have to get used to it. We wrap the food in large banana leaves, store the bread in cloth napkins and use wicker baskets or woven palm bags to take purchases home.”

The town unequivocally banned straws, plastic bags, and styrofoam from entering its borders.

Credit: the.yogi.nomadic / Instagram

“There are three products that may not seem significant,” San Pedro’s Mayor Mauricio Mendez said last year. “But when we start to see rivers and lakes polluted with these products, we realize that they are a very important key to create change on this planet.” The town swiftly put up a banner at the entrance of the town that announced Municipal Code 111-2016: “No uso bólsas plásticas, pajillas y duroport.” San Pedro does not use plastic bags, straws and styrofoam.

Instead of plastic, the town has been using banana leaves or maxán leaves, which are traditionally used for tamales. to store their food.

Credit: DW Español / YouTube

When the town passed the ordinance, it received a lot of pushback. Rolando Paiz, Guatemala’s Plastic Commission’s President, told DW that plastic is “one of the noblest materials that humans invented,” and that San Pedro simply needed infrastructure to properly store garbage. Paiz appealed the ordinance to no avail. Three years later, the town has proved itself right.

The initiative has brought the town back to its traditional ways, bringing back childhood memories for many.

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Bakery owner Graciela Batz said that the return to traditional cloth and paper bags are bringing back memories from when she was a little girl. Another resident said that the mayor’s initiative is a real opportunity for the town to save its lake. “We always invoke the thought of revolution,” Mayor Mendez said, “The revolution is not about weapons. It is to make structural changes in each of our lives to create change.”

Lake Atitlán is a major tourist attraction for the town.

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While the town is more than 90 percent made up of indigenous Tz’utujil Mayans, there is a growing expatriate community of Americans and Europeans. That may be because Lake Atitlán is a major source of revenue for the town, drawing in hundreds of thousands of tourists from all over the world each year. The lake rests at 9,905 feet in elevation and sits beneath Volcan San Pedro. Tourists enjoy kayaking, canoeing, and snorkeling in the lake, which was becoming increasingly littered with trash. The community not only saved its economy, but it saved an entire body of water from dying.

Residents volunteered their time to take canoes out to the lake, and collect trash.

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Collectively, they would remove nearly 700 pounds of trash from the lake, each day. It was a last resort after protesters demanded the government clean up the lake. In July 2015, #AtitlánSano went viral on social media, but the government did nothing. The indigenous communities had to take it upon themselves to save the lake, which was experiencing explosive blooms of cyanobacteria, making the lake water toxic for human consumption. 

Atitlán has become the center of debate in Guatemala’s growing demand for water rights and an end to environmental racism.

Credit: true_nature_travels / Instagram

As massive international farms begin to operate in the country, rivers have been diverted, and waste management has not prioritized for indigenous communities.

“If this lake was in [the mainly white department of] Zacapa, we would have a lot of money, it would be privatized and the government would pay much more attention,” expert Juan Skinner told Truthout. “But because the lake basin is in an Indigenous stronghold, it suffers from the same exclusion that all Indigenous lands suffer from within the country. This is a tourist mecca, an incredible natural wonder, it is still abandoned and excluded because the majority is Indigenous. Because this is a racist country.”

San Pedro residents have become a shining example of the organizing strength of indigenous communities, in the face of a government that continues to divert funds to white communities over indigenous communities.

READ: The United Nations Gave Costa Rica The Highest Award Possible For Their Work Saving The Environment

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ICE Admits It Made A Mistake In Deporting This Guatemalan Man So Why Hasn’t He Been Brought Back?

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ICE Admits It Made A Mistake In Deporting This Guatemalan Man So Why Hasn’t He Been Brought Back?

JOHAN ORDONEZ / Getty Images

Although the Coronavirus pandemic poses special risks to migrants who are returned to their countries – as well as the communities they’re put back into – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) continues to deport migrants by the thousands.

There have been several reports of deportees spreading Covid-19 back in their communities after being removed from the U.S., which makes sense considering the U.S. is leading the world in Covid-19 infections.

However, ICE has admitted that they made a mistake with one recent deportation, when they removed a man who was legally awaiting his asylum process.

A Guatemalan man was wrongfully deported and ICE admits it was their mistake.

A 29-year-old Guatemalan man seeking asylum in the U.S. was mistakenly deported by authorities despite the lack of a deportation order – and worse, before he even had his first appointment in immigration court.

César Marroquín was deported August 19 – the same day he he was supposed to appear for the first time before an immigration judge. Instead, he was sent back to Guatemala – with dozens of other deportees – the country from which he fled after being the victim of aggression and kidnapping, according to his account.

“They told me that if I didn’t get on the plane, I’d be charged,” Marroquín told Noticias Telemundo. “There was some mistake with me in the system.”

His current attorney, Marty Rosenbluth, believes it is a flagrant error. “I’ve seen quite a few cases of people who were deported in error. I’ve never seen one quite like this where they were deported even before their first hearing, “ he told NBC News.

The Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency, or ICE, said in a statement that Marroquín’s deportation was due to an “administrative error” while his case was still open.

Despite their mistake, Marroquín remains in Guatemala.

Although the mistake lay completely with U.S. ICE agents, Marroquín remains in his native Guatemala at risk of further persecution.

According to Marroquín’s official complaint filed in Guatemala, he said he suffered political persecution and physical violence after he supported a local politician and turned down a request to work with a rival one. After that, he said he was threatened and his home was damaged and raided; he also suspects someone tampered with his car. Marroquín said he was then kidnapped at gunpoint, tortured for several days and then left on the side of the road. He decided to leave the country after that and sought asylum protections in the United States.

The authorities and Marroquín’s attorney are now working on his readmission to the United States.

“This type of gross negligence is completely inexcusable,” said Rosenbluth, his current attorney. “The law is very, very clear that they can’t deport someone in the middle of their immigration court proceedings. They’re just not allowed to do it.”

Of course, not surprisingly, this isn’t the first time the immigration agency has made a mistake in deportations.

In 2018, ICE made a similar mistake with an undocumented inmate at a New Hampshire jail. ICE agents violated an appeals court order and deported the man back to El Salvador, where he lost 60 pounds and was subject to starvation, beatings, and overcrowding, according to the American Civil Liberties Union-New Hampshire, which represents the man.

“This is a very serious matter to us,” said Scott Grant Stewart, a deputy assistant U.S. attorney general, who appeared before a three-judge panel to explain the error. “We’re sorry for the violation of the court’s order. This was inadvertent. We do acknowledge the error.”

In fact, there are thousands of documented cases of U.S. citizens being deported by ICE.

According to a Northwestern University political scientist, Jacqueline Stevens, more than 1,500 U.S. citizens have spent time in immigration detention or even been deported between 2007 and 2015. More recent examples abound of the U.S. government detaining citizens after falsely accusing them of breaking immigration laws.

ICE authorities reportedly detained for three days Jilmar Ramos-Gomez, a veteran born in Grand Rapids, Michigan who served with the Marines in Afghanistan, in 2018 because the agency did not believe he was born here.

ICE also detained for more than three weeks a man named Peter Brown who was born in Philadelphia and lived in the Florida Keys in 2018 because the agency confused him with an undocumented Jamaican immigrant – who was also named Peter Brown.

In 2007, the government settled a lawsuit arising from ICE’s detention of 6-year-old Kebin Reyes. ICE detained the California-born child for 10 hours when it picked up his undocumented father, even though his father immediately handed the authorities Reyes’ U.S. passport to prove the boy’s citizenship. And Justice Department records obtained by the Los Angeles Times indicate that a 10-year-old boy from San Francisco was mistakenly held in immigration detention in Texas for two months, according to his lawyer.

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Guatemala Shifted Tactics With The Latest Migrant Caravan And Here’s Why

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Guatemala Shifted Tactics With The Latest Migrant Caravan And Here’s Why

Jose Torres / Getty Images

The Coronavirus pandemic hasn’t reduced violence or poverty or many of the other reasons that people flee their homes in an attempt to reach the United States. In fact, in many places violence and poverty are at record levels as the virus leaves millions of people without work, access to medical care, or education.

Therefore, it’s no surprise that even though the Coronavirus pandemic continues to pose a serious health threat, thousands of Central Americans banded together in another caravan. However, this time it barely made it out of Honduras before being forced back by Guatemalan security forces.

The country has completely changed its approach to how it handles these ‘migrant caravans.’ Previously, the country had allowed many of them safe passage. However, under pressure from the Trump administration, the country’s president has decided a heavy-handed approach is better.

Under pressure from Donald Trump, Guatemala halted more than 3,000 migrants set for the U.S.

As a caravan containing roughly 3,500 Honduran migrants attempted to cross into Guatemala on their path to the United States, Guatemala halted their progress and ordered their removal from the country. This was a starch contrast to the migrant caravans of year past as many were allowed to seek asylum or even cross Guatemala’s border with Mexico.

In a televised message, Giammattei said Guatemalan security forces were able to “contain” the caravan, that according to the president was a factor in the transmission of the Coronavirus.

According to the Guatemalan Migration Institute (IGM), the caravan entered eastern Guatemala on Thursday, pushing over a military barrier setup along the border before splitting into groups to reach Mexico, which had already closed its borders in anticipation of the caravan’s arrival.

By Friday and Saturday, hundreds of Guatemalan police and military personnel set up roadblocks forcing migrants — including young children and people in wheelchairs — to turn back.

Guatemala’s president said the containment efforts were to protect the country from further Coronavirus infections.

Credit: Jose Torres / Getty Images

Shortly after the caravan entered Guatemala by foot and overwhelming the border security forces, the country’s president – Alejandro Giammattei – vowed to send them back to Honduras, citing his efforts to contain the pandemic.

“The order has been given to detain all those who entered illegally, and return them to the border of their country,” Giammattei said in a broadcast address to the nation. “We will not allow any foreigner who has used illegal means to enter the country, to think that they have the right to come and infect us and put us at serious risk.”

Giammattei issued an order that would suspend some constitutional rights in the provinces they were expected to pass through, apparently in order to facilitate detaining them.

“We are experiencing a pandemic in Guatemala which has cost us to control with months of efforts,” said the president, adding it was an “obligation” to reduce the risk of further contagion.

At the onset of the pandemic, Guatemala instituted a strict lockdown of the country, even closing its airports and borders to all travel. So far, the country of about 17 million has seen more than 94,000 Covid-19 infections and 3,293 people have died since March.

These so-called caravans have become more common in recent years as migrants band together for protection.

In recent years, thousands of Central American migrants traveling in large groups have crossed into Mexico, with the aim of reaching the U.S. border. In the U.S., these caravans have become a hot-button issue for political conservatives, including President Trump.

During the 2018 caravan that occurred close to the midterm elections, Trump threatened Mexico with steep tariffs and economic pain if the country didn’t do more to stop the caravans before they reached the U.S. – Mexico border. The country bowed to Trump’s demands and deployed its National Guard and more immigration agents to break up attempted caravans last year. They dispersed large groups of migrants attempting to travel together in southern Mexico.

The odds of a large migrant caravan reaching the U.S. border, already low, have grown increasingly slim over the past year. In fact, crossing into the U.S. legally is virtually impossible now thanks to inhumane policies implemented by the Trump administration. Meanwhile, attempting an unauthorized crossing into the U.S. is as difficult as ever.

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