Guatemalan officials called off search efforts for more than 100 people estimated to be entombed by a mudslide caused by rains from Eta that engulfed the village of Queja, Alta Verapaz. Ovidio Choc Pop, mayor of San Cristóbal Verapaz of which Queja is/was a part, said he would seek to have the location declared as a cemetery. Climate change is increasing extreme rainfall and has been linked to storms moving more slowly — both leading to increased damage and rainfall as storms stall over land for longer periods of time, as Eta did across Central America. Well over 100 people have died in Guatemala alone with dozens more across Central America.

Centuries of inequity

Both historic and acute discrimination against Indigenous Mayan populations have led to those groups being hit disproportionately hard by Eta, on top of widespread malnutrition — all of which inflict compounding harms as those displaced by the storm are forced into overcrowded shelters. Historically dispossessed of their land, Indigenous communities are forced to farm the steep mountainsides typical of the Central Guatemalan highlands, making them vulnerable to landslides. “A lot of aid is politicized here,” Diego Ceto, a leader in the Indigenous Ixil community in Nebaj, Quiché, told the New Humanitarian. Winter Coc Ba, the Indigenous Q’eqchi’ mayor of the heavily flooded San Pedro Carchá was excluded from an emergency meeting with Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei last weekend. Winter Coc’s exclusion was indicative of the “monumental contempt that persists against the Maya,” according to Sandra Xinico Batz, a Kakchiquel columnist and anthropologist.

“It’s abandonment; it’s irresponsibility; and it’s a lack of interest in these communities,” María Chipel, a Maya K’iche member of the Tz’ununija’ Indigenous Women’s Movement, told the New Humanitarian. Tz’ununija’ is one of many efforts led by Indiginous people in Guatemala to help other Indigenous people in Guatemala left behind by the government in the wake of Eta’s destruction. “We have had an earthquake, and we have had genocide, but never a storm like this,” Ceto said.

(Recovery called off: Reuters, AP; Cemetery designation: Prensa Libre (es); Covid and malnutrition: Prensa Libre (es); Agriculture impacts: Prensa Libre (es); Indigenous inequities: New Humanitarian, Republica GT (es), Prensa Libre (es), El Periodico (es); Climate Signals background: Hurricanes; Extreme precipitation increase)