The manufacturing of cohetes (firecrackers) has become one of the main ways families belonging to the communities of San Juan Sacatepèquez and San Raymundo in Guatemala earn a living. These communities of Mayan descent live in the highlands, 50km from the capital, Guatemala City. The highlands were historically tied to farming and the cultivation of corn.
While farming is carried out by the adult members of the family and depends on the seasons and the agricultural cycle, the processing of gunpowder takes place all year long and uses mainly child labour because of their ability to handle and manufacture small firecrackers. Approximately 40 communities live scattered between various “aldeas” of San Juan and San Raymundo, and over 15 thousand children work in their homes every day to produce fireworks.
The average salary is calculated based on the quantity of pieces produced: 10-15 Queztal (equivalent to 1,50€) for over 10 hours of labour a day. It is for this reason that this area holds the highest percentage of illiteracy and truancy in the country. The raw materials (potassium chlorate, aluminium, sulphur) are extremely flammable. Friction, heat, and the spill of powders cause violent explosions that cause injuries, burns and even death.
The homes where the firecrackers are produced do not undergo inspection and are unsafe, due to the scarce safety with which the powders and the finished products are handled and stored. Because of this, the number of incidents and explosions is very high. At the same time, easy and unregulated access to raw materials has allowed the rapid and thorough spread of these businesses and over the years, illegal “coheterias” have increased in number causing great social and humanitarian harm.