THE OTHER SIDE: MEXICO AND GUATEMALA

DOCUMENTED BY ALEX PUIG

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BIOGRAPHY

Journalist, photographer and audiovisual producer, Alex Puig conducts his visual style portraying social and cultural movements, as well as realities avoided by the mainstream media. A specialist in documentary film, he has co-directed the short film "Entre Raíles" [F.Málaga, Zinebi] and "La Gota: retrato de una sentencia", as well as multiple photographic reports and other documentary productions.

Promoter of the audiovisual project "Panot Films", he collaborates with associations, institutions and social organisations to disseminate the humanitarian work they carry out. Photography and narration for social transformation.

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THE OTHER SIDE: Guatemala, the aftermath of the conflict

Despite being one of the most prosperous countries in Central America, seven out of ten people in Guatemala depend on informal work for their livelihoods. With one of the highest rates of inequality in the world, 60% of its population living in chronic poverty, and a poor distribution of wealth among its inhabitants, the country faces a most extreme problem: famine.

According to UNICEF data, in Guatemala, one out of every two children goes hungry. This poverty is particularly prevalent in indigenous and rural communities, with women being the most affected, and they are doubly affected by inequality. The legacy of Guatemala's civil war is still latent in the country. Despite representing 41% of the local population, the indigenous communities, massacred during the dictatorship, are still recovering from an armed conflict that resulted in the deaths of more than 200,000 people, 45,000 disappearances and countless atrocities - perpetrated mainly by the country's army. An event that, to this day, still reverberates strongly in Guatemala's collective memory.

The beginnings of the conflict date back to the 1950s, during the government of Jacobo Arbenz of the Revolutionary Action Party. Arbenz, seeking to put an end to the plundering of Guatemala's land by large companies such as the US-based United Fruit Company, promoted the Decree

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900. Land reform to regulate oligopolies, expropriate large estates, end tax breaks and, ultimately, return commercial sovereignty to local peasants.

The United States, following its usual strategy, instigated the opposition and the army to stage a coup d'état, seize power and thus regain control of the CFU's land. This coup came two years later, in 1954, when Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, supported by the army and the CIA, seized power. Thus began a bloody civil war that dragged on for 36 years, opening an almost irreparable rift in the country.

Murders, torture, disappearances and genocide took the lives of more than 40,000 people - mainly indigenous people of the Ixil ethnic group, direct descendants of the Maya - as a result of the army's lack of control and racism towards the indigenous communities. It was not until 1996 that a series of agreements were signed.

peace agreements that, to this day, are still hanging in the balance. Furthermore, it is estimated that between 1983 and 2007, more than 30,000 children were taken away and given up for adoption to families in countries such as the United States, Canada and Europe.

Despite the promises and commitments signed in the treaty, reparations to the victims have not been forthcoming and there are still more than 45,000 disappeared, according to Amnesty International.

GUATEMALA full gallery

THE OTHER SIDE: Oaxaca - México, on the streets

It's Friday and the main avenue of Puerto Angelito beach is packed to the rafters. It is night and it is stiflingly hot. Even so, the heat of this hot February day doesn't stop the virgin from going for a ride in the back of a pick-up truck. In Mexico, 78% of the population is Catholic. That means that almost 98 million people practise this religion, making it the country with the second highest number of followers after Brazil. Wherever you go, there will always be a saint represented in the most colourful way possible.

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Under the sun, the day goes by slowly and on the beach, entire families - mostly Mexican - walk in search of shade. In the background, the chanting of the street vendors who stroll along the beach offering all kinds of delicacies mingles with the music of the palapas and beach bars. In the sea, countless boats with full capacity invade the coastline. Some of them barely float, but in any case, none of them lacks the main ingredient of a Friday: beer.

Sunday arrives, market day. Since pre-Hispanic times, the market concept has been a fundamental pillar of commerce in countries like Mexico. Formerly known as tianguis - open-air markets - these spaces evolved into municipal markets which, managed by local governments, ended up becoming bustling labyrinths of flavours, smells, colours and, in short, experiences full of meaning. These points of cohesion have always been the centre where communities - mainly indigenous - have come together to trade, share and forge new links. However, making a living in these places can be exhausting, as there is no shortage of competition.

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And wherever there are markets, dogs always come. Especially in Mexico. Because this country loves dogs. According to official figures, it is estimated that there are between 40 and 70 million dogs throughout the country. This large volume of "firulais" has made Mexico the country with the most dogs in Latin America and the first in the world ranking of stray dogs. There are so many mutts that they have come to be considered an invasive species as direct predators of protected or endangered animals. A whole hidden society that, with its respective hierarchies, has managed to impose its dominance on the streets. The reality of being chased by a pack of dogs of all sizes is now a real danger.

It is 13:00 in the capital of Oaxaca. Nearby, in the zocalo, a political rally is about to begin. Next to it, an encampment organised by associations such as UACOL - which brings together traders, peasants and indigenous communities from the area - is in its fourth consecutive year demanding respect, justice and freedom.

Despite the festive atmosphere, the reasons for the settlement are far removed from any celebration; a massacre of 15 indigenous Ikoots over a territorial dispute - the PRI wanted to wipe out their sacred territory - went totally unpunished. Their demands also include the release of leaders imprisoned for their demands against the economic interests of the state. Classist reprisals and racist murders. Not all killings in Mexico are linked to drug trafficking.

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Two streets away, a parade celebrates the union of a foreign couple with traditional dances, an Oaxacan-style orchestra and a long queue of curious tourists joining in. Halfway through, a dog unceremoniously blocks a crossing. Perhaps it is out of respect for the canine community or fear of reprisals, but what is clear is that no one dares to interrupt his siesta. No matter how much of a nuisance. In the background, Emiliano Zapata is still there, attentively celebrating his centenary in a mural.

However, most of the graffiti that invade the walls of the centre are far from celebratory. Some denounce the constant feminicides that occur annually (more than 3,000 in 2021) in Mexico. Others call for the disappeared, an end to corruption or freedom for political leaders, among others. In the end, they all demand justice in a country where 95% of crimes - according to the organisation México Evalúa - remain unsolved.

 

A country of contrasts. Of tragedies and joys. A country where people barely live, but where they are still in a constant struggle to guarantee their fundamental rights. A country with countless challenges to solve but which, despite its countless sorrows, lives day to day with joy, tradition and a culture that is as mixed as it is millenary.

MEXICO full gallery