The agricultural cycle is an extension of the territorial cycle. Where the territorial cycle was a tribe’s claim on a territory to support its population, an agricultural cycle adds the military to protect soil for cultivation. The relationship between population and food supply is tied to land instead of territory. That distinction may seem trifling, but territory is a geographic region and land is a soil condition. A tribe roams and dominates a territory to hunt, gather and scavenge their necessary food supplies while a community protects it land so it can cultivate its soil to grow their necessary food supplies. In Guatemala the military protected the land so an outside company could grow food for export and to do that efficiently the population was suppressed.
The Guatemala Civil War from 1954 until 1996 was a long political, military and corporate perversion of civil society although at the same time a classic power struggle between aristocratic land holders and corporations against peasants. The United States, attempting to suppress leftist governments and communism in the Western Hemisphere used covert military support orchestrated by the CIA to overthrow the Jacobo Arbenz government of Guatemala in 1954. Arbenz had successfully begun a program of land distribution that appropriated United Fruit Company land and redistributed it in small parcels to peasants.
Guatemala is the home of Mayan culture and since the Spanish conquest the indigenous Mayan people have experienced repression, abuse and exploitation at the hands of landlords who drove them off their lands. Guatemala’s economy continues to under-perform as a result of low investment and continued racial tensions. Over fifty four percent of the population lives below the poverty line and the largest part of the poor are farmers and indigenous people among whom seventy three percent live below the poverty line. Guatemala has extreme inequality of income and wealth distribution. The richest twenty percent of the population account for more than fifty one percent of overall consumption.
Since the end of the Guatemalan Civil War in 1996, the military has become less politically dominant and at this point now receive less than half of one percent of the national GDP. Where previously the military ran the country and rather than protect the land for the country’s farmers it played the exact opposite role. It suppressed and often killed indigenous poor farmers who attempted to organize labor or find ways to improve their situation. The military previously protected land owners and corporations at the expense of smallholder farmers. Since 1996 that situation has changed and is now improving.
Now that civil war is over, what remains is a poor population that has health problems, poor education, and is growing in size. The population growth rate is just under 2 percent and Guatemala is the most populous country in Central America with over fourteen million people. It is a young population, with fifty nine percent of people under the age of twenty five. Agriculture represents less than fourteen percent of GDP, but engages thirty eight percent of the labor force. The combination of poverty and a growing population means immigration to Mexico and the United States are a common occurrance.
Remittances home from abroad represent one tenth of national GDP. Those who stay home tend to farm and there are some agricultural improvements. The Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), which Guatemala joined in 2006, has spurred investment that has helped diversify and increase agricultural exports. The largest increases have come in non-traditional agricultural products like ethanol production from cellular plants.
With an annual GDP of about 78 billion dollars, 10 ½ billion dollars of exports is a significant part of the countries economic activity. When the international economy slows and causes a decline in exports, national GDP goes down. The largest export commodities are, coffee, sugar, petroleum, apparel, bananas, fruits, vegetables and cardamon. Over forty percent of these exports are bought by people and companies in the United States, about six percent go to Mexico and twenty eight percent to other Central American countries. The prospects for economic improvement hinge on continued political stability and a long-term slowing of population growth, which at this point is not a likely outcome. The development of new digital technology for agriculture, like cell phone use for market information and farming methods is one route of development but has not yet become a significant part of economic growth.
Illegal drug trafficking has become part of Guatemala’s shadow economy. Guatemala has become a major transit country for cocaine and heroin since 2005. In 2004 opium poppy production emerged in Guatemala and marijuana cultivation for domestic consumption has also continued to play a part in Guatemala agriculture. Being immediately south of Mexico’s southern border makes Guatemala a significant staging area for cocaine transporting. Drug transit patterns that used to involve shipping off both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts of Guatemala are now frequently staying on land and passing through the country. Money laundering and corruption are associated problems accompanying that drug traffic.
The classic agricultural cycle that depends on military protection of land is not working in Guatemala. While the military is no longer inflicting oppressive rule on the poor farming community of Guatemala, the economy has not diversified enough to provide growth opportunities for the burgeoning poor farming population. That poor part of Guatemala society is particularly vulnerable to shifts in the international economy and turns to illicit drug cultivation as an alternative or to immigration. A digital revolution in the farm sector could vastly improve circumstances.