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How my opinion of Guatemala has changed in 11 years

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Jim Thompson

By Jim Thompson
HCP columnist

We just returned from our annual mission construction trip to Guatemala. Well, it was annual up until 2019, then we skipped three years due to COVID. It sure felt good to go back.

I first went to Guatemala in 2012. Like now, in those days we focused on poverty alleviation, through many ways. My personal focus has always been on house construction. And the mission we work with has had a remarkable run. Starting in 2005, our trip in the last week of July this year had us working on the 157th house they have constructed in the District of Sololá. These are solid, masonry, earthquake-proof houses.

It is the return to the States that is a surprise to me. In years gone by, I have felt that we lived in a blessed country that is peaceful and bountiful. Now, as compared to Guatemala, at least the western highlands of Guatemala where we work, I am not so sure.

Yes, the crime rate is higher in Guatemala than here, but that is just a matter of being careful about where you go. The cost of living is much, much lower in Guatemala than here. I know people there are living quite comfortably on a small U.S. Social Security check. The weather in the western highlands is delightful year around.  

The Guatemalan politics are simpler. There is a runoff election for president coming up later this month, and everyone talks about one candidate being a crook and one being honest – and, more importantly, there is almost universal agreement on which one is the crook and which one is honest.

What I like more than anything else, though, is that the country is not run by legions of unelected bureaucrats like it is here. And, perhaps surprisingly, this lack of regulatory handcuffs seems not to have caused excessive hardships or harm for the population.  

In the last 70 years, other than the usual robbers and gangsters, the greatest number of people harmed and killed in Guatemala seems to have been at the hand of our own Central Intelligence Agency.  

Starting with CIA Director Allen Dulles and coming down through the decades, our own country probably caused more unnatural deaths in Guatemala than any other source.

Today, I find Guatemala, at least the Guatemala I know, superior to living in the U.S. "Well, then go," you say. Fair statement. However, while Laura likes to visit there as well, she is not ready to move there. It is a little matter of children and grandchildren here.  

There are also islands of peace in this country, and in fact, some of the people who live on those islands of peace read this column. But sadly, the United States of today is not the United States I grew up in. It is said no democracy has ever lasted more than 300 years. I think the U.S. calendar for this democratic republic has just about run out.

So, I no longer come back to the U.S. from Guatemala thinking we live in a better place. We just live in a different place, one where ethics, morality and civility are on the way out. 

When I think of the United States I love, it is best described in a memory of when I was about 8 years old. I was mowing the grass at our house with an old reel type push mower. One energetic Sunday afternoon, I told my mother I was going to mow the grass. She quickly informed me that indeed I was not to mow the grass on Sunday. And so, I did not, and neither did anyone else. The stores were not open, nothing much happened on Sundays. It was a day of rest.

Now we live in what has been described as post-Christian America. A place where Sunday is the relentless pursuit of playthings, just like any other day. It is a day when the politicians still lie, the regulators still regulate. It is no different than any other day.  

I think today’s Sunday is symbolic of how far we have fallen. The endless pursuit of worthless baubles continues unabated, seven days a week, much to our detriment.

Nothing is special here any longer, except on those islands of peace.

Jim Thompson, formerly of Marshall, is a graduate of Hillsboro High School and the University of Cincinnati. He resides in Duluth, Ga. and is a columnist for The Highland County Press. He may be reached at


Matthew (not verified)

8 August 2023

My like-minded friends and I have absolutely no qualms about legal and proper immigration into the waning bounty of these United States. There's also a part of me that wants to encourage Guatemalans, Cubans, Afghans, Haitians, Venezuelans, to take back their own countries from the oppressive regimes. I'm sure there are many proud Guatemalans who love their Country and their people. And they yearn for the same freedoms we do. I wish I had an adequate residence (with hot water) in about 9 different places in the Western Hemisphere: Alaska, Wyoming, South Dakota, South Carolina, the Caribbean, Guatemala sounds nice, Ohio for May-October-Christmas, American Samoa, etc...

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