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Labor shortage in Huehuetenango due to migration of Guatemalans to the USA

The situation in Guatemala is becoming more difficult, and in Huehuetenango there is a growing tendency for men to migrate to the United States. Practically everyone in Guatemala has a relative in the United States, and in Huehuetenango there are many people who do not need to work because they receive remittance money from their relatives in the US. People now seek to buy land with the surplus money they have and work on the land for themselves instead of working on farms where they used to cut coffee, for example.

This problem of labor shortages in Huehuetenango for harvesting coffee stems from the very need for self-improvement that people have, says Rolando Villatoro, a coffee producer who owns “Las Rosas” a farm located in Huehuetenango. In the US, people pay them much better and they are hiring people from Huehuetenango. The opportunities for these people are much better if they go to the United States and the families that stay in Guatemala no longer need to work thanks to the money they send them.

Rolando also tells us that the amount of work for Latinos in the United States is enormous, whether or not they speak English, apart from the fact that new migrants there receive help to establish themselves from relatives who have already been in the United States for years.

Mauricio Rosales, a coffee producer who owns La Linda, a farm located in Huehuetenango, tells us that many people from "Huehue" are emigrating to the United States and sometimes even to Mexico, since even in Mexico they earn better than what they would earn staying in Guatemala and working in the coffee harvest as cutters. Today, Huehuetenango being the region most affected by this problem of migration to the north, he tells us that from what he has learned, El Salvador and Honduras are having fewer problems than Guatemala. Costa Rica at the same time has an excess of labor, enough to export it due to the great migration of Nicaraguans who come to work in the coffee harvest.

To give us a little perspective on the problem, Mauricio told us that on his farm they would normally have at least 50 cutters at this time of year and right now they only have 25. On other farms that he knows in the surrounding area they should have around 150 cutters and many times they do not even reach 50. To compensate for this problem, some of the nearby farms have chosen to bring people from the coastal regions to work on the coffee farms, but they do not adapt to the climate and tend to give up after a few weeks. These workers on coffee farms on the coast are used to other working conditions, Mauricio explained to us. They come from working huge farms with much greater facilities and services that smaller farms in Huehuetenango cannot provide.

Eduardo Cabrera, a coffee producer who owns San José del Lago, a farm located in Atitlán, Sololá, also told us about the phenomenon of migration to the United States, but with the caveat that Sololá has not been much affected by this problem. He tells us that in Sololá, unemployed people do not starve, on the contrary, the farmer has Lake Atitlán to survive. Many people choose to plant their own crops, fish in the lake and other people seek to work in trades related to tourism. The migratory phenomenon that occurs in Sololá is from the villages to the cities like Santiago Atitlán given that they find better opportunities there and can become technical in study centers like Intecap. The opportunities that farmers have in Sololá are much better, there are much more diverse jobs than in Huehuetenango and there is food security for people thanks to the lake.

Continuing the conversation about the migratory issue of Huehuetenango with Mauricio and Rolando, we tried to see what possible solutions or mitigations would exist for said problem, but that will be in the next blog!

By: Andres Ranero

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