Poor people have got a right to be angry | Jonathan Glennie

From Global development | The Guardian Fri Feb 8 2013, 06:59:01

I have detected a worrying lack of empathy towards poor people demanding their rights. But what would you do if your child was growing up stunted or you couldn't pay for your electricity?

On a recent trip to Guatemala, a glance at the local paper revealed a country riven by social conflict. On the front page, indigenous groups and NGOs were blocking the way to a mine in San José del Golfo, one of the many mining operations seen by the government and oligarchy as key to Guatemala's development, but by most indigenous people (who make up 40% of the population) as a threat to their wellbeing, with few apparent benefits.

On another page, a man in a Che Guevara T-shirt was handing in a petition to the government to nationalise the electricity system - private companies are hiking prices and then disconnecting the poor households that are unable to pay. The neighbouring article presented a World Vision report on children forced into dangerous work (such as making fireworks) through poverty. Meanwhile, talks to agree next year's minimum wage have failed - the unions are asking for a 47% increase to cover the rising prices of basic goods, while the private sector prefers 2% (inflation is about 6%).

Finally, the proposed rural development law stipulating gradual reform of land use and titling has led to an unlikely alliance between the former general and now right-of-centre president, Otto Pérez, and the leftwing NGOs. Predictably, the private sector is opposing such "socialism". Malnutrition is chronic in much of Guatemala, at about 50% of the population - higher than in many African countries.

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