Guatemalan developers are building a nearly independent city for the wealthy on the outskirts of a capital marred by crime and snarled by traffic. At its heart is the 34-acre Paseo Cayala, with apartments, parks, high-end boutiques, church, nightclubs, and restaurants, all within a ring of white stucco walls.
The builders of Paseo Cayala say it is a livable, walkable development that offers housing for Guatemalans of a variety of incomes, though so far the cheapest apartments cost about 70 times the average Guatemalan's yearly wage. It's bordered by even costlier subdivisions begun earlier. Eventually, the Cayala Management Group hopes to expand the project into "Cayala City," spreading across 870 acres (352 hectares), an area a little larger than New York's Central Park.
Cayala's backers promote it as a safe haven in a troubled country, one with an unusual degree of autonomy from the chaotic capital. It also embraces a philosophy that advocates a return to a traditional concept of a city, with compact, agreeable spaces where homes and shops are intermixed.
The story's actual title was "Guatemala builds private city to escape crime." Maybe the people built the new city to escape crime. Obviously, crime is a problem here. However, I changed the title to "Criminals built private city to escape Guatemala." I know - not every one who chooses to live in Cayala is a criminal. Some want to escape crime and others want to bring a little of New York and Paris to Guatemala.Detractors, however, say it is a blow to hopes of saving the real traditional heart of Guatemala City by drawing the well-off back into the urban center to participate in the economic and social life of a city struggling with poverty and high levels of crime and violence.
However, for many Guatemalans, the people who can afford to live in Cayala are the same people, or families, that are engaged in organized crime, drug trafficking, human smuggling, etc. They have stolen land from their original owners. They plunder the land for its natural resources. They export what they grown to serve the needs of American and Europeans consumers rather than to feed the staring here..
Perhaps, they are criminals because they exploit their employees. They pay them a non-livable wage. They sexually harass female employees. Maybe they fire or kill those who try to organize unions. They don't pay taxes. For many of the people in this country, they probably see those who live in Cayala as the criminals who want to to escape from Guatemala, not Guatemalans who want to escape from crime.
Another reasons why some people want to live in Cayala boils down to the fact that many of the wealthy are simply racist. They don't do not like their fellow citizens. In fact, they don't even think of them as citizens. Granted not all elites and not all those who are living in or will live in Cayala are racist. However, many of the attitudes that led to the civil war and that were documented in the various human rights reports remain pressing concerns today. Racism lies behind much of what the people and the government do or do not do.
We have the same problem in the United States where elites would rather isolate themselves from society around them. It's just a lot worse when it happens in a country amidst such poverty, inequality, and violence.