New Hospital

Santiago Atitlan, 5th of October, 2005, Page 3 

By Roberto Foregger

SantiagoAround the Lake Atitlán Today History Weaving Art Mayan ReligionFeria Social Projects Local Business Tienda Santiago Links Photo Archive 2005 Disaster Disaster, page 2 Disaster, page 3 Music Festival Virtual Maximon


Lealo en Español walker

 The Politics of aid

HospitalitoThe first couple of days after the mudslide there was an amazing amount of movement. A bubble descended on Santiago and we were caught in a heroic space and time. Everyone could think of nothing but what they could do to help, and there were thousands of little kindnesses and great gestures to help the village crawl out of this disaster. The feeling of unity that pervaded the air and somehow held off the desperation that wanted to take over. The people just got to work. There was no plan and no logic, but somehow the Bomberos started working out at the mud flow, and the doctors rounded up the leftovers from what was left of the Hospitalito and set up in the Centro de Salud. From the first the various medical entities The Soup Kitchenwere collaborating with each other and providing anything that was needed: the few medicines that were available were shuttled back and forth wherever they were needed. A concerned group of local residents started up a soup kitchen for the dispossessed and the hundreds of people who were coming from all around to help dig out the dead. A couple of Peace Corps volunteers set up a team to go with disinfectants and soap to help the people that were starting to straggle into the schools and churches covered by the stinky mud. People in the market started donating food for the soup kitchen and everyone pulled out their old clothes and blankets for the survivors. Old ladies brought baskets of tortillas, kids brought bags of noodles or donated their candy money. From the start the only thing you could notice about the Mayors office was that they were on a microphone the whole day, just asking for help. They really didn’t organize anything. The immediate relief of Panabaj was done completely in an impromptu way, without any Rigoberta Menchuassistance from the authorities. Then the helicopters started landing. Everything went downhill from that point. All of a sudden Misael, the mayor’s son, was placed in charge of receiving the aid that was starting to trickle in. The teachers (mostly Ladino) were assigned the job of appropriating any aid that came to town to make sure that it was funneled through the “proper” channels. The mayor started accusing the president of being a racist because he didn’t show until the fifth day, when he landed in a helicopter with Rigoberta Menchu to prove that what was being said about racism wasn’t true. There were rumors of $200,000 being handed over to the mayor (he says they got nothing from the president), and the media circus had begun.

  A day earlier, when it was obvious that most of the real action was around the edges of the show, the press had a field day filming the medics, soup kitchen, and other impromptu relief work, while not finding that much at the mayors office, where they still just seemed to want to talk all day into the microphone without accomplishing anything. The news was full of shots of gringos working alongside locals. Not much about the mayor’s office beyond talking heads.
The next morning, without any warning or reason, the Mayors office and the director of the schools (the mayor’s son) closed down the soup kitchen.Purifying the Municipality steps after the identification of the bodies The previous day the kitchen had provided food for at least 1500 relief workers, police men, municipal workers and. This is besides the hundreds of hungry people who just had nowhere else to turn to.
All of the funding for the soup kitchen had been procured from individual people, and nobody could figure out why the kitchen was closed (the relief workers were left stranded without any food) until the president’s helicopter landed, and the only apparently organized group who was allowed close to him was the mayor’s folks….. Everything suddenly turned into a photo op.An Albergue
At that point the municipality did everything it could to eliminate any visible aid that didn’t come from their office. They started seizing aid trucks and stacking everything into their bodega at the school, where it was enmired in burocracy and funneled very slowly to whoever was on the muni’s list. In order to receive any help a person had to wait all day in line and register, whereupon they would receive enough rations for a day. Then they had to do the same thing the next day. As of November first, there is still a pile of brand new unused wheelbarrows and other tools stacked in the courtyard of the municipal building.panabaj
The NGO relief organizations, like the Red Cross. Noticed this quickly and started to instruct their people to find alternate ways to make sure the relief got spread further by sending people with aid to the groups who were more interested in actually helping the people than building a career out of their efforts. The office of the Presidents wife started seizing international shipments of aid at the airport and stacking it all in their warehouses in an attempt at gaining some political gasoline from all of the international attention.panabajBy the fifth day it was all in chaos: there were helicopters flying over every ten minutes, stretching the nerves and frightening all of those old people whose only experience with helicopters was from the war years, when the same helicopters were hunting them.A misguided, publicity seeking doctor from the US managed to convince somebody in the US army to help, so they sent him down with some Blackhawks full of stuff. They couldn’t seem to be able to figure out how to land anywhere without blowing off everyone’s roof. Instead of coordinating with the local efforts that were eager to help with trucks, they just got frustrated and dropped the last of their big packets out on the mud flow, where people had been evacuated.The town learned about these drops when all of a sudden woodchoppers started showing up at the clinic with boxes of relief drugs for sale.

We also heard that the doctor went on NPR and claimed full responsibility for creating the panabajHospitalito Atitlan and other such self aggrandizing talk. He then flew right back out again. The Bomberos, medics, and a group of concerned local neighbors just kept on working, doing whatever was possible to help our less fortunate paisanos. Alternative relief efforts started popping up all over: most of us local expats were sent funds by concerned people from all over the world, and different people have set up some very interesting projects to find those who were missed or overlooked in the official relief efforts. Most of this work is being done quietly in the background. Meanwhile, with nearly 6000 displaced people, the president offered to make Santiago a “model” of their disaster relief efforts. They have set up a shanty town. Using wooden 2X4s covered in a thin sheet of plastic and very thin tin roofs, they have built around 100 3 meter by 6 meter shacks with dirt floors destined for 2 families each. There is a sheet of Shacksplastic on the floor and the families can try to find some privacy behind another sheet of plastic hung down the middle. The door is plastic. There are no kitchens: they are making a communal tortilla pit and trench latrines. Up to 12 people will be expected to live there for about a year, until they can figure out something better. The health commission has threatened to condemn the whole operation. The people don’t want to move there: the location is right between two mud flows and unsafe. Most people prefer to move in with family or just go back to rebuild their old houses in ticky tackyPanabaj even though it is a river bed. So far we are still waiting to see any great help from the presidency. The Hospitalito has found a temporary, rented home in Tzam Chicham, and they are working hard to keep up the amazing work that they have been doing. The bomberos are quietly distributing water and coordinating with the other “alternative” groups in various relief projects.New Hospitalito They had been sent relief packets of their own during the disaster that were confiscated by the mayor’s office. There is a strong rumor that the municipality fell for a classic scam when they were offered a bunch of aid money if they would just send the cash to pay for the taxes… Santiago Atitlan has persevered through the ages because of the local Vacunaattitude of tough patience. We have seen a lot, and I have no doubt that the people of corn will overcome this latest in a long line of disasters.

Disaster, page 1

Disaster, page 2