The topic of sustainable development at the World Summit in Johannesburg in August is not just a matter of declarations, diplomats and documents, but primarily what people are living and suffering.
Here is one concrete example: The chronic underdevelopment of northern Guatemala and of Chiapas in southern Mexico was at the root of over two decades of armed conflict between the armies of the respective countries and the indigenous peoples along the Guatemala-Mexico border. Mayan armies of forty thousand, armed mainly with machetes, forced both countries to negotiate an unstable peace, or at least a peace without human rights. Paramilitary violence maintained control and so allowed government forces to appear less repressive. The misdevelopment of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries was at the root of that underdevelopment. The agrarian frontier kept advancing, with ladinos expropriating ancestral lands and reintroducing colonial methods of bonded labour to establish coffee plantations and cattle ranches.
On the Guatemalan side, 60 percent of the population was forced into model villages in an attempt to control the nodal points of the indigenous uprising. Meanwhile the government invests in increased petroleum and mineral prospecting, modernises migration control and profits from the rich natural resources combined with extreme human poverty. As death squads continue to ensure the remapping of indigenous lands and culture for foreign investment — especially hundreds of new maquiladora (foreign-owned assembly plants) in search of the cheapest labour — the Mayan people experience globalisation as the destruction of their culture. This will be a key issue for discussion at the World Summit!