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American cars take food from Guatemalan mouths

Photo by Rodrigo Abd / AP

The New York Times reports on the looming hunger crisis in Guatemala:

“In the tiny tortillerias of [Guatemala City], people complain ceaselessly about the high price of corn. Just three years ago, one quetzal — about 15 cents — bought eight tortillas; today it buys only four. And eggs have tripled in price because chickens eat corn feed.

Meanwhile, in rural areas, subsistence farmers struggle to find a place to sow their seeds. On a recent morning, José Antonio Alvarado was harvesting his corn crop on the narrow median of Highway 2 as trucks zoomed by.

‘We’re farming here because there is no other land, and I have to feed my family,’ said Mr. Alvarado, pointing to his sons Alejandro and José, who are 4 and 6 but appear to be much younger, a sign of chronic malnutrition.

In a globalized world, the expansion of the biofuels industry has contributed to spikes in food prices and a shortage of land for food-based agriculture in poor corners of Asia, Africa and Latin America because the raw material is grown wherever it is cheapest.”

Living in a nation brimming with abundance as we do, Latino Americans — like most Americans — tend to forget, or ignore, how close we live to places where the threat of starvation and disease are imminent. There’s hunger and death in Africa and Asia, but there’s also hunger and death occurring on an appalling scale closer to home, from the colonias along the U.S.-Mexico border to the favelas of Rio.

As Americans, we also tend to forget, or ignore, the ways in which our own agenda and way of life ultimately affect people struggling simply to survive in places as far-flung as El Cancellero in northern Guatemala. And, incidentally, American avarice isn’t to blame this time for the blight hitting many parts of Central America. Now it’s the West’s somewhat noble ambition to move away from the archaic energy sources of the past two centuries. (I say “somewhat” because, in addition to the hunger it causes, newer studies seem to indicate that the amount of agriculture required to make biofuels a viable alternative to oil and coal might cause marginally less damage to the environment then perforating the earth’s crust and spoiling the seas.)

The sinister part of this story is that there’s no market for biofuels in Guatemala or other places where the increasing overseas demand for the very same exacts such an immense toll on the people’s livelihoods.

If America’s economic and military might doesn’t designate us as policeman of the world, then we’re at least its benefactor. Because much of what takes place or doesn’t take place around the around is a result of the decisions made by Americans.

About Hector Luis Alamo, Jr.

Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., is the associate editor at Being Latino and a native son of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. He received a B.A. in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. While at UIC, he worked first as a staff writer for the Chicago Flame and later became the newspaper's Opinions editor. He contributes to various Chicago-area publications, most notably, the RedEye and Gozamos. He's also a cultural critic for 'LLERO magazine. He has maintained a personal blog since 2007,, where he discusses topics ranging from political history and philosophy to culture and music.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.


  1. black carbon says:

    america is not called the belly of the beast for just any reason. Economy and religion is the devils number one agenda.

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