Below is the second blog post from one of our 2022 Human Rights Summer Research Grant awardees, Gabriela Nagle Alverio. Her first blog, "Linking Climate Change and Migration," described her research in Mexico in June 2022. Below, Nagle Alverio discusses her time spent in Guatemala that same summer.
To learn more about the Human Rights Summer Research Grant, click here.
In 2018, Guatemala’s Volcán de Fuego erupted, killing hundreds and affecting 1.7 million people. In my interviews with Guatemalans this summer, I was told that in the wake of the devastation, people from around the country came together to support those who had been affected. They set up makeshift shelters and donation centers, and everyone gave what they were able to without thinking twice. In all the stories that I heard, mentions of support from the government were noticeably absent. In fact, when I asked how the government helped, I was met with laughter. The government hadn’t taken the time to warn people that an eruption was imminent, though they had made sure to evacuate the hotels that housed tourists just a few miles away. This pattern, the camaraderie and adaptability of Guatemalan people alongside the detachment and disfunction of the government, became a theme I would hear repeatedly.
When asked about my research, my “line” is that I study the ways that climate change impacts human rights and the policy solutions therein. This summer I was in Guatemala conducting interviews on climate migration, and though I was not completely naive to the governance challenges in the country, I did not anticipate the extent to which the definition, sources, and scope of “policy solutions” must be expanded in order to be effective. In a failed state, policy may exist, but solutions must come from the ground up rather than from the top down. In effect, migration becomes a bottom-up solution to the human rights violations that climate change imposes upon Guatemalans. However, along the way to their destination and even once they arrive to where they are going, many human rights are also at risk. My interviewees told me horrible stories of women who took birth control before migrating because they knew sexual assault was inevitable; children, who after being separated from their parents and later deported, suffered from PTSD and would no longer speak to their parents; and people who had never heard from their loved ones again after they left. Clearly, the bottom up solution of migration is not providing the protection that a top down one might be able to.
In hopes of understanding what top down solutions might be possible, I also interviewed several people that work on human rights within the government. They investigate human rights violations and make recommendations to various government agencies and branches about what needs to be done to stop them. However, my interviewees shared with me that their reports are placed in a stack that essentially collects dust and the solutions that they propose are never read, much less acted upon. It struck me just how incredibly frustrating and helpless they must feel, as people who deeply care about defending human rights. Each day they have to continue to request reports of human rights violations from the public, even though they conveyed to me that they know that little will change as a result.
It is fairly obvious that in order to protect human rights, one must take a systems approach as opposed to a siloed one. Though I knew this intellectually, I was struck by the realization that in order for my research to have an impact on climate migration, I am going to have to look beyond the one-liner that I initially came in with. Rather, I must trace migration as a solution backwards to the multiple roots of the problem and focus on a combination of solutions that both address systemic issues and alleviate current pain points. Obviously, this is much easier said than done - but regardless, ¡pa’lante!