Guatemala's GNP: Cellphones and Politics

Political posters on the rocks everywhere
Tomorrow is DOBLE SALDO on TIGO, which is the cellphone company we have our cellphone with. When you buy a recharge card for your cellphone, you get TWICE THE MINUTES. It's the talk of the town. The whole country starts salivating on double-minutes day. We found out late in the day, and then we heard people talk about it on the bus. Guatemala has great cellphone coverage, with at least three major companies, and almost everybody has prepaid plans. Tomorrow we'll buy a card for 100 quetzals, or about $13.00, and we'll get $26.00 in airtime credit! It's so exciting. But wait until triple day comes.

Judging from the number of places that sell cellphones and prepaid cards, cellphones must account for about 50% of the GNP of Guatemala. Today we were out in a pretty remote village where the women scratch together money to rent a small plot on which to grow onions. They have next to nothing. But a phone rang somewhere and our hostess pulled a cellphone out of her brassierre...

Now, if cellphones account for 50% of the GNP of Guatemala, political stenciled advertisements on the side of the road must account for another 25%. It's the height of the presidential election cycle here - the first runoff election is September 9, and every rock in the entire country has the logo of one of the 19 political parties. And I'm not sure that I can remember a billboard that isn't for one of the political parties. Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú is running, but I think shé's not a favorite. One of the favorites is a former general running on a safety and security platform with a very stern expression on his face saying "Vote with the firm hand". It's pretty scary. He looks like a mean general.