Bicentennial Parks: Culture, sport, and recreation?
Badges, recognition plaques, promotional bracelets, decorative figures, stickers… these are just some of the costs planned or already spent by the Government of Guatemala through the Ministry for Culture and Sports, the Guatemalan Social Security Institution, and the Guatemalan Olympic Committee to celebrate the bicentennial of independence. However, this is just the icing on the cake when it comes to the government wasting money, as many major expenses are planned, including the construction of parks commemorating the bicentennial of ‘independence’. The state has even created a specific interdisciplinary commission for the occasion, which comprises advisers and administrative staff. The amount of money allocated to the commission is yet to be disclosed.
According to multiple sources, the cost of the commemorative parks ranges from 5 to 30 million quetzals, and they are described as “spaces for recreation, culture, and sports across different parts of the country”. The locations for this project are Zacapa, Esquipulas, Chiquimula, Cobán, Alta Verapaz, San Pedro Sacatepéquez, San Marcos, and Zone 21 of Guatemala City. It was suggested that a park could be built in Quetzaltenango, however, the land that would have been used is presently occupied by the Minerva Zoo. This suggestion was therefore questioned by the people of Quetzaltenango; firstly, because land owned by the municipality would be transferred to central government ownership; and secondly because a large number of trees would be felled, thus destroying one of the few green spaces within the city. A group of citizens collected signatures to protest the construction, and social media users expressed their discontent, describing the park as a non-priority investment for the municipality. To “avoid controversy” the government stopped the work, but only after claiming that certain groups were misinforming the residents of Quetzaltenango.
Although investments into recreation, culture and sports would be of great benefit to the population, it is important to note that many places already exist to serve this purpose, but most of them are in a precarious position. In many cases, these places receive little funding from the government, or they are utilised for other activities apart from the purpose for which they were created. This demonstrated the clear lack of will to invest in and improve upon existing spaces, prioritising instead the creation of new projects that may too be abandoned in the future. On the Guatecompras portal, there is currently only one tender for the construction of the Zone 21 park in Guatemala City, and there is no information on the other parks.
Of real benefit to the population is the construction of buildings that meet with quality standards, and that are built in a transparent manner that means granting construction licenced to trained companies who do not access these licenses through bribery or cronyism. If this project is not taken seriously and it is not audited, the bicentennial parks may face the same fate as the Chimaltenango bypass, which was supposed to alleviate traffic, but since its inauguration in April 2019 has been constantly affected by landslides, cracks, and erosion, which makes traffic worse and puts drivers at risk.
The bicentennial parks project makes a mockery of Guatemala, particularly at a time when the country is going through its worst health crisis ever due to the covid-19 pandemic since the first case was registered in 2020. Hospitals are on the brink of collapse due to inadequate infrastructure, shortages of medicines, covid-19 tests, layoffs of medical staff and a sluggish vaccination programme. All of this goes to show that – once again – the population has made a mistake in its choice of elected leader, and that this project has been designed on a whim to maintain the status quo. As Alejandra Medrano, professor at the USAC history school, states in an interview with Con Criterio magazine: “The bicentennial parks reflect the vision that they have wanted to impose upon us since we were children; of parades, civic altars, fairs, markets with racist imagery of children dressed in indigenous clothing, to give us the impression that we live in a nation with values, customs, and wealth. This is a distraction from the reality of Guatemala, from the series of problems, in order to make us believe we are a great nation when we are in fact a country in crisis.”