Flies and politics

July 22, 2011

It took villagers in Guatemala’s El Aguacate 25 years of living with clouds of flies on the streets, in their homes, on their faces and on their food, before they decided to act. According to them, the source is the Rosanda 2 chicken farm that began to operate in the entrance to their village the same year the flies appeared. After just my first hour in the village, I too was repulsed by the sensation of the hundreds of flies that crashed into me.

Residents speak with rage and impotence of the flies, which they blame for sickness and even death. Even to a casual visitor it quickly becomes incomprehensible how economic interests supersede the health of a population, and how it’s easier to accept rising infant mortality rather than enforce basic sanitary rules on the farm. It’s especially puzzling now during election season when at each political rally and written on each street poster are promises of improvements for society.

It was a radio news story about a group of armed men standing guard at the entrance to the village that brought me to El Aguacate for the first time. My first photo was probably my favorite of all I had taken in the few weeks since moving to the country; a man who looked both surprised and ashamed wore an old clown’s mask and thick gloves, while patrolling with a rusty shotgun.

At first I couldn’t find a logical explanation for the scene, but when some women showed me bags filled with a black mass that turned out to be the flies they collected in their homes just that morning, I realized the seriousness of their problem living with these minute transmitters of disease.

I spent that Monday morning mostly listening to the same stories I already knew personally – the lack of help from the government to solve a life-threatening problem. In my home region of Guerrero, southern Mexico, with its high percentage of indigenous population and serious problems caused by drug trafficking, government officials never take charge to solve the problems of a distant community. The same seems to happen here in Guatemala, especially when it involves a company that has generated profits for the last 25 years. It seems that it’s not important that the flies produce illness, diarrhea, or worse, if the farm is economically viable.

Residents say that the government has ignored their claims, stating officially, “There is no increase in infectious disease in El Aguacate.” And for all their complaints, residents say that the owners of the chicken farm are threatening them with high power weapons. That’s why they decided to arm themselves in defense. To protect themselves they cover their faces.

It all reminds me again of my hometown where the indigenous population began to arm themselves 15 years ago to create the Communitarian Police of Guerrero, after the government ignored the constant assassinations, robberies and rapes. In that way they created what is today one of the safest regions in Mexico.

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