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Conflict Derails Development

Guatemala

Wars, drug trade, gangs, sectarian violence — it all pushes people deeper into poverty. When there's conflict, it's the poorest who suffer most.

Complete Video Script

While there's been tremendous progress globally in the fight against hunger, unfortunately over the last few years, hunger has ticked up rather than declined. To a great extent, it's because of a combination of three things: conflict, bad governance and corruption, and climate change.

Conflict is a major hurdle. Wars, drug trade, gangs, sectarian violence — with so much weaponry ending up in the poor world — it all pushes people deeper into poverty. Statistics show that when there's violent conflict, it's the poorest who suffer the most: More civilians than combatants die, institutions that hold societies together fall apart, and economies grind to a halt.

A global surge in armed conflict, especially in Africa, is a major reason for the recent setback in progress against world hunger. Experts believe that, in the future, most hunger will be in countries wracked by conflict.

Conflict and exploitation have a long history. In Guatemala, the ruins of magnificent temples are reminders of a grand civilization that thrived here centuries before Columbus. But Spanish conquistadors subjugated Guatemala's indigenous people. Today, the descendants of the people who built those temples are the poorest people in the country.

The city of Antigua was founded by those European conquerors in 1543 as their capital of Central America. It was the hub of a colonial system designed by Europeans for exploitation. The main square reflects the structure of that repression: the palace and military headquarters, Catholic church, local government, and the trade center. It was all designed to control the people who lived there, and export their natural resources. And, while pleasant today, this square was notorious as a place where indigenous people who caused trouble were executed.

Central America's eventual "independence" from Spain led to an unholy alliance of international corporations and corrupt local governments — the era of the so-called "banana republics." Entire nations became essentially company farms designed to export their basic crop — raw — to developed nations. When landless peasants organized for land rights, there were inevitable civil wars.

The people buried in this remote Guatemalan cemetery all died in one such war, which raged for 36 years until 1996. It was portrayed in the United States as a war against communism. But people here saw it as about economic justice, and land rights for the country's poor.

Though overgrown, the memories are still raw. This man, at the tomb of his father, described how he was one of 200,000 who died in a war about rights to own land.

This economic dynamic played out in so many countries and its legacy continues. Colonial systems evolved into systems of economic dominance by local elites. To this day, here in Guatemala, a handful of wealthy families own most of the good land and dominate the economy.