Avoiding Narcotourism

Everyone loves to travel. In 2008, 924 million people traveled abroad. That is a lot of people contributing an enormous amount of money to foreign economies. For obvious reasons many people think of tourism as having a positive impact to the economy of any area that utilizes it to create jobs, preserve natural resources, and increase the overall quality of life for the people living and working within the tourist economy. But does tourism always leave positive impacts? My research delves into the tourist economy of a specific area in Guatemala where the Tzutjujil Mayan people struggle to decide how tourism should be used to bolster their economy and maximize the benefits tourism can bring while minimizing its negative impacts.

Bowker - Guatemala - San JuanThe town of San Pedro La Laguna on the side of Lake Atitlan Guatemala has blossomed into a thriving community over the past twenty years. Much of the success the town has had in the tourism sector is due to Narco-tourism. The various illegal narcotics that can be purchased around the town has made San Pedro a popular stop for many backpackers while traveling through Central America. Marijuana, cocaine, psilocybin mushrooms, LSD, MDMA (pure ecstasy), and prescription drugs are all available to buy at discount prices given you can make contact with the right local. The local dealers are both Guatemalans and foreigners who call San Pedro home. The sale and availability of illegal drugs has had a significant impact on the lives of this Mayan community, especially the impressionable youth. But this is just one of the problems that tourism can bring if it is not regulated.

Bowker - Guatemala - Zoola In contrast to San Pedro a mile and half away down a dusty pothole ridden road, or a ten minute boat ride, is the community of San Juan La Laguna. San Juan is a different municipality and is also using tourism to develop, but in a different way. The community organizations working in San Juan have decided to utilize a more integrated approach to tourism and though there are still some “negative” impacts on the culture, for the most partthe people have been able to keep these negatives in check and preserve their culture by keeping the narco-tourism and foreign business investment at bay.

I still have a long way to go in my research and many more people to interview before I will be satisfied with my understanding of the situation. This unique case study shows investment capital cannot be thrown at development without a comprehensive plan put forth to manage slow sustainable growth. In the 21st century it is time to acknowledge the importance of long-term gains over the short-term. Unsustainable growth in development creates more harm to culture and to the quality of people’s lives.

Posted by Dave Bowker – MA Candidate at CLACS

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