October 11, 2005

Anger increasing over slow aid in Guatemala

And rightfully so: Anger at slow aid to Guatemala mudslide village.

PANABAJ, Guatemala (Reuters) - Aid trickled into a Guatemalan village devastated by a mudslide that killed some 1,400 people, and Maya Indian residents complained on Sunday the government was far too slow to react to the tragedy.

Peasants from neighboring villages brought clothing for the victims, rowing canoes across Lake Atitlan to Panabaj. The village was buried under a deadly slick of mud, rocks and trees that slid down a volcano after rains from Hurricane Stan.

A federal deputy from western Guatemala said 300 people had died in another mudslide in the town of Tacana, near the Mexican border, but that could not be confirmed.

In Panabaj, Spanish firemen arrived to look for bodies under a quagmire that is up to 40 feet deep in places and Guatemalan soldiers brought water in a truck.

But government help was little and late, local officials said. They were angry that President Oscar Berger had not visited the village four days after one of Latin America's biggest tragedies of recent years struck.

"I feel totally sad, morale is very low. We want to see the president, we want to see him here," said Diego Esquina, mayor of Santiago Atitlan municipality, which runs Panabaj.

Stan's rains triggered the mudslide as Panabaj's residents slept early on Wednesday. Mud-covered roads prevented rescuers from reaching the site for two days.

No senior government official went to the village and the mayor said racism against the Mayas might be to blame.

"It's like they are giving a message that it is because we are indigenous. That is the point. A lot of my people are saying it is because we are indigenous," Esquina said.

Santiago Atitlan was a hot spot during Guatemala's 36-year civil war, which ended in 1996. Years of abuses by soldiers helped leftist rebels recruit Indians in the town and tensions peaked in 1990 when drunken soldiers killed 13 locals.

The said thing is, Esquina, you're probably right.

Posted by Kyer at October 11, 2005 12:24 PM | TrackBack