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Published on : Tuesday, November 26, 2013
The sight is breathtaking and steeped in history.With its cobblestone streets and colonial-era churches and plazas, picturesque Antigua has long been Guatemala’s top tourist destination as an oasis away from the crime and chaos consuming the rest of the Central American country.
In recent months, however, the UNESCO World Heritage Site has witness the troubles of the outside world threaten its backpacker charm. Vehicle and home burglaries are up, and once-reliable public services such as water and trash collection have been left unattended across whole blocks.
Many blame political turmoil for the troubles in this city of about 53,000 people. Antigua hasn’t had an elected mayor since September 2012 when Adolfo Vivar and several relatives and members of his administration were charged with establishing a criminal network that stole nearly $3 million from the city’s treasury. Although an interim mayor was named, electoral authorities haven’t yet said how Vivar and the council members will be permanently replaced.That’s left Antigua unable to attend to basic business and spooked some longtime townspeople, who say they’re afraid their charming niche amid the volcanoes could see vital tourism revenue plummet.
José Reyes, a restaurant cashier, said robbers stole the phone and iPad of his English teacher, an American, who responded by leaving town.She lived here, but after that she left because she was really frightened,” Reyes said.Another resident, Magali Méndez, said that both her son and daughter have been robbed, and that her son almost died after his attacker stabbed him.”You hear your family, your neighbors and tourists alike complain of robberies happening in touristy, popular places during the day,” Méndez said. “The police and city governments are failing to provide security and enforce the law.”
Government figures show the number of crimes have spiked this fall in Sacatepéquez department, where Antigua sits, jumping from 148 in the Sept. 1-Nov. 16 period of last year to 181 in the same span this year. Antigua reported the most crimes in both totals.
Because of the jailing of the mayor and other officials, city budgets are awaiting approval and the government has come to a standstill, said María Eugenia Contreras, legal adviser to interim Mayor Edgar Ruíz.
“Meanwhile, Antigua’s administration continues working — the collection of taxes, police, water services — but everything still depends on budgets,” Contreras said. “At the end of the year, it’s always necessary to allocate budget funds, and who authorizes that is the city council. So it’s likely that there are going to be more problems providing services, especially at the end of the year.”