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Alcohol in Mayan Guatemala: consumption, distribution, production and composition of cuxa


Jürgen Rehm, Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), 33 Russell Street, ARF 2035, Toronto, ON M5S 2S1, Canada. E-mail:


Aims  To describe the consumption, distribution, production and chemical composition of alcohol, including cuxa (pronounced ‘coo sha’), in Nahualá, a highland Mayan municipality in Guatemala. Cuxa is a sugarcane-derived spirit, in part produced clandestinely, that has been distributed in the community for several decades.

Methods  Key informant interviews with alcohol distributors and consumers, cuxa producers and health professionals, as well as analyses of questionnaires from a sample of 47 spouses who came to the local health centre for problems related to their husband's drinking. Sampling and chemical analysis of cuxa from 12 of 13 identified sales points in the head-town of Nahualá and its nearby settlements (10 km radius). Fieldwork was conducted between November 2007 and March 2008.

Results  Alcohol consumption was found to be integrated culturally in this community. The overall drinking culture was marked by irregular heavy drinking occasions, especially around market days, with substantial inebriation and health problems, especially among street inhabiting drinkers. Cuxa contributed to these problems, and cuxa drinking was socially stigmatized. Cuxa was produced both clandestinely and industrially, and sold legally by taverns and illegally by clandestine distributors. The alcoholic strength of the samples was typically between 17 and 19% vol.; clandestinely produced cuxa samples showed acetaldehyde contamination.

Conclusions  Measures should be taken to reduce the harm associated with alcohol in this community, including efforts to reduce acetaldehyde levels in cuxa.