A Guatemalan satellite consulate will soon open in Riverhead to provide vital services to Guatemalan immigrants residing in the region. Photo: Maria Del Mar Piedrabuena

A Guatemalan consulate will soon open its doors in Riverhead — a satellite office of the main consulate in Manhattan.

The new consulate, located at 1333 East Main Street, will provide limited but vital services to Guatemalan nationals living in the region, helping expedite the issuance of Guatemalan passports, consular identifications and birth certificates.

The Riverhead office is expected to serve Guatemalan immigrants living on Long Island, as well as residents of southern Connecticut, according to a memo from Guatemala’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

An office on the East End will reduce travel time for local residents, who often spend a full day traveling to and from the consulate in Manhattan, where hours of operation are very limited, according to consulate officials.

Suffolk County is currently home to about 7,900 people born in Guatemala, according to a Fiscal Policy Institute analysis of the 2019 American Community Survey’s five-year data. Another roughly 5,500 live in Nassau.

Guatemalans have lived on the East End for decades, especially in the North Fork area, where they’ve worked on local farms, Sr. Margaret Smyth of the North Fork Spanish Apostolate said in an interview. According to a study by All Peoples Initiative, “Guatemalans have arrived steadily since the 1980s, mostly to escape the civil war and chronic poverty.”

In the past, the Guatemalan consulate in Manhattan has offered “consulates on wheels,” a one-day event where consular staff traveled to certain locations throughout the tri-state area to serve the local population. A “consulate on wheels” has traveled to Riverhead many times during the past several years, most recently in the fall of 2019. The traveling consulate allowed local residents who had not been able to go to Manhattan to make appointments to obtain specific paperwork from their country of origin, which can’t be acquired anywhere else.

The waiting room inside the new Guatemalan consulate in Riverhad. Photo: Maria Del Mar Piedrabuena

Ivan Z., a resident of Riverhead and a Guatemalan citizen who has volunteered at “consulates on wheels” in the past, explained that having a consulate in Riverhead is the culmination of years of petitioning the Guatemalan government for a local office. It will fill an urgent need in the local Guatemalan community, he said.

For many local Guatemalan residents, traveling to the consulate in Manhattan is very difficult and expensive, and appointments are hard to get due to the high demand, Ivan said. The Manhattan office serves the entire tri-state region.

“Many times, even when you think you have everything, all the paperwork they require, you don’t,” Ivan said. “You end up losing a whole day going to Manhattan,” he said. “Many people who in the first place have difficulty being able to access transportation to go all the way there, can’t even go back easily, if at all,” he said. “And that affects them because they need their documents in order.”

Hundreds of people signed a letter to Pedro Brolo Vila, Guatemala’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, to let him know about the need to expedite consular services in New York, especially the issuance of passports, Ivan said. Many local residents had been waiting for their passports for as long as two years, leaving them stranded with no identification.

Riverhead Supervisor Yvette Aguiar has spoken with the new consul, as well as with Smyth, who is acting as a liaison with local Guatemalans. Aguiar said in an interview that she was aware of the imminent opening of the in Riverhead. Smyth had explained that as a satellite consulate, it would provide limited services to local Guatemalan nationals only, the supervisor said.

“Even though the consulate was approved by the Department of State, I understand the need for it, and I am glad it will help members of the Riverhead community,” Aguiar said, adding, “Riverhead is a very diverse town.”

The consulate was accredited by the United States Department of State in March of 2019 according to a Guatemalan’s Foreign Affairs Ministry memo and was scheduled to open in early 2020, but the COVID pandemic delayed those plans, officials said.

The reception area of the Guatemalan consulate office in Riverhead. Photo: Maria Del Mar Piedrabuena

The office was expected to open in April, but a delay with specialized computing equipment pushed back the date, Smyth said. As of last week, consulate staff were putting the finishing touches in the new offices. A formal opening date had not yet been established. According to officials and Smyth, it can be as soon as late May.

The consul is Ana Elena Mercedes Flores Chavarría de Rojas and the vice consul is Edgar Martín Mejía Ovando, according to the Guatemalan government’s memo. Flores Chavarría de Rojas is the wife of a Guatemalan legislator and an attorney and notary in her country, according to Guatemalan newspaper La Hora. Flores Chavarría de Rojas did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

The new office is likely the first-ever consular office in Riverhead, but it’s not the first in the county. El Salvador has established a satellite consulate in Brentwood.

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María del Mar is a contributor to RiverheadLOCAL and the editor and founder of Tu Prensa Local, a Spanish-language local news outlet on Long Island. Maria has won several awards for her work, including a first place best column award from the New York Press Association. Email Maria