wikileaks ico  Home papers ico  Cables mirror and Afghan War Diary privacy policy Privacy
2005-10-17 22:19:00
Embassy Guatemala
Cable title:  


pdf how-to read a cable
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.


E.O. 12958: N/A


Summary and Introduction

1. Embassy Guatemala strongly supports granting Guatemalans
living in the United States Temporary Protected Status (TPS)
following Hurricane Stan, which produced floods and mudslides
that have devastated the country. Guatemala is in a state of
calamity and will be hard pressed to address any additional
demands for jobs, housing, roads, bridges, schools, water and
sanitation services that the return of Guatemalans living
illegally in the U.S. would require. On the eve of CAFTA
coming into force, Hurricane Stan delivered a body blow to
Guatemala, which was already suffering from high poverty
rates, fragile public institutions and an astonishing wave of
gang-related crime. The GOG is overwhelmed with addressing
the need to clean up the damage, restore basic services and
build shelters for the survivors. Granting Guatemalans TPS
for 12 months would ease the burden on the Berger
administration as it contends with the massive task of
overseeing country-wide recovery and reconstruction efforts
by postponing the return of Guatemalans until the country is
better able to absorb them. It would also provide a
substantial support to the Berger government, which has
boldly undertaken major fiscal reforms in order to increase
social sector spending and to create jobs, measures that will
in the long term create incentives for potential migrants to
stay in Guatemala. Extending TPS to Guatemalans would also
give us added leverage in our efforts to increase GOG
cooperation in the expedited removal from the U.S. of
Guatemalans apprehended at the border.


Stan's Devastating Impact


2. Starting October 1, torrential rains spawned by Hurricane
Stan produced floods and mudslides that destroyed large
sections of the country. The GOG is still assessing the
damage, but preliminary information suggests that it was the
most devastating natural disaster to strike Guatemala since
the 1976 earthquake. Due to closed roads and cloudy skies,
there are parts of the country that the authorities have not
been able to reach, neither by land nor air. The official
death toll is currently 664, but this number is expected to
rise. One UN agency has estimated the death toll at 2,055.
The storm destroyed or damaged at least 200,000 homes. There
are over 140,000 persons taking refuge in shelters and
uncounted thousands more left homeless or taking refuge in
private homes. At least 14 highways were blocked by
mudslides, caved in or washed away, leaving 847 km of roads
completely impassable and another 1001 km passable with
extensive delays. Over a hundred bridges were damaged or

destroyed. The GOG conservatively puts the price tag for
infrastructure repairs at $320 million, but the disruption to
economic activity caused by road and bridge damage will be
much higher. Subsistence farmers across the Mayan indigenous
highlands suffered severe losses. Cash crops for export were
also badly impacted. The Federation of Guatemalan Coffee
Growers, an umbrella organization of 150 cooperatives,
reports that losses from flooding could be 10 to 15 percent
of the nation's crop, leading to high unemployment in the
harvest season, which is just beginning. Preliminary
estimates indicate at least $400 million was lost in corn,
beans, coffee, sugar and other crops, and another $140
million lost in livestock. All told, the GOG believes 1.5
million persons were directly affected and another two
million indirectly affected by storm damage.


Dire Economic Conditions


3. Preliminary estimates indicate that Hurricane Stan's
damage to the economy will lead to a contraction of two
percent in Guatemala's GDP over the coming year. Guatemala's
economy was already experiencing anemic economic growth
before Stan due to a number of external factors, including
surging energy prices. Indeed, on a per capita basis, GDP
has not grown in five years. Per capita income of over
$2,000 is skewed by a very wealthy elite; over 55% of the
population lives in poverty (under two dollars per day) and
at least a further 15% in extreme poverty (under one dollar
per day). Poverty and economic marginalization of much of
the indigenous population remain major challenges, and
socio-economic indicators are among the lowest in the Western
Hemisphere. Prior to Stan, up to half the working population
was unemployed or underemployed. In terms of absolute
numbers, Guatemala has far more people in extreme poverty
than any other country in Central America. Many of the
country's poorest live in the highlands, areas hardest hit by
Hurricane Stan.


Guatemala's Stability at Stake


4. President Berger has used his first two years in office
to undertake major structural economic reforms, such as
reducing the military by 50% and increasing tax collection.
He has reoriented the savings to increased social spending,
which in the long run creates jobs and decreases the
incentives for Guatemalans to emigrate to the U.S. The
Berger administration has, furthermore, been a strong partner
in efforts to combat narcotics trafficking, alien smuggling
and terrorism. Its desire to cooperate with us on a broad
range of issues was evident in FM Briz's encouraging response
to our request for GOG cooperation in accelerating the
removal of Guatemalans apprehended at our borders (ref C).
Guatemala has made much progress since the 1996 peace accords
that ended 36 years of an internal armed conflict that took
200,000 lives. The country is still desperately poor,
however, and fragile state institutions are riding herd over
a host of social problems that could easily re-ignite. The
GOG has responded well to the initial challenges of Hurricane
Stan, but the work of preventing widespread hunger, meeting
public health needs and rebuilding damaged infrastructure
will severely test the Berger Administration's ability to
meet Guatemala's basic needs. The success or failure of that
effort will determine popular attitudes toward democratic
governance and institutions. Success in responding to the
hurricane damage will strengthen democracy in Guatemala;
failure will weaken it. TPS is the single most effective
means the USG has at its disposal to help Guatemala recover
from Hurricane Stan. The GOG understands that TPS would be
of limited duration. We recommend granting TPS for the next
twelve months in order to give the GOG the space it needs to
recover from the effects of Hurricane Stan and to get the
economy up and running again.