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  Number 289 | Agosto 2005
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Guatemala

“The State Doesn’t Have to Be Painted Mayan, But...”

envío attended an interesting reflection by Rigoberta Menchú, Álvaro Pop and Rosalina Tuyuc on Mayan participation in the state, the current government, its new institutions and the formulation of public policy. Following Guatemala’s long, tragic internal conflict, where are the Mayans now? What are they doing? What do they aspire to? What do they propose?

Juan Hernández Pico, SJ

Whenever I return to Guatemala after a few weeks away, I’m invaded by an increasing sense of discouragement—a feeling many share. Things don’t seem to move; they’re stagnant, petrified, unable to make substantial progress, or else the little progress made is quickly frustrated.

An army reduced to a third of its wartime size showed its teeth during the Army Day parade for the first time in seven years. The Vice President announced that if the 2006 budget doesn’t meet the Peace Accords’ social spending requisites, “many people will leave this government.” “You included?” journalists asked him. “Yes,” he responded, only to come immediately under intense pressure to retract what he said. Mounds of cadavers pile up each week, the product of crimes the Public Ministry never takes to court despite all of the Civil National Police’s new paraphernalia and the increased number of prosecuting attorneys. The President joined forces with the five other Presidents of Central America and the Dominican Republic to lobby in Washington for passage of the free trade agreement with the United States (DR-CAFTA), the new face of US imperialism in the globalization era. They might as well have openly begged the distinguished members of Congress to sink them deeper into dependency and poverty. Meanwhile, the bills that were to be sent to Guatemala’s own congress in an attempt to palliate the agreement’s disadvantages are gathering dust in some forgotten drawer...

In a recent public event, my Jesuit colleague Ricardo Falla argued that the current despair is the inevitable result of analyses centered exclusively on the high spheres of power. At the top, the country appears mired and condemned to disenchantment. But if we look further down, analyzing the reality of the governed and considering the activities being undertaken by civil society in both the capital and the interior of our countries, we might see that they are all shaking off the stagnation, that there’s booming development and liberation work, that people are advancing enthusiastically and with unsuspected ability. ¡E pur si muove!

The great concerns

envío participated in a public discussion of ideas in which Quiché-Mayan Nobel Peace laureate Rigoberta Menchú, and Quikchí-Mayan researcher Álvaro Pop from the Regional Research Center for Mesoamerica (CIRMA) were the invited panelists. In sharing their ideas, they also showed us much of the bottom-up activity that’s taking place in Mayan participation in Guatemalan politics.

The dialogue was laced with various fundamental concerns: The historic ladino alliances with Guatemala’s indigenous peoples. An indigenous elite that is participating in national politics, but without any cadre support and bereft of the old leaders wiped out during the internal conflict. The current intensification of racism and discrimination. The field of indigenous politics as diverse rather than unitary, with the danger of dispersion and of the excessive focus on individual leaders learned from Western political experience.

The importance of a future Constituent National Assembly to re-found Guatemala, creating its Second Republic. Mayan spirituality, which is ecumenical, as opposed to Mayan religion. The memory and legacy of genocide. The education of indigenous people and the Mayan University. The indigenous political agenda and the prospects of gambling on state power. Guatemala as a society in a pre-conflict state and the applicability of the peace accords.

Is there real indigenous
participation in government?

Have indigenous people really participated in government in Guatemala? Álvaro Pop began by saying that almost all governments in Guatemala have had alliances with indigenous peoples. The central government’s alliance with those in the west, for example, prevented the consolidation of the Sixth State, the State of Los Altos. Nonetheless, history pays no attention to indigenous authorship in politics, and even less so that of women and youth. With the leftist revolutionaries, these alliances were more class than ethnically oriented. Pan-indigenous movements arose at one point, but with the peace accords, the priority shifted to culture and spirituality.

He added that there have always been indigenous groups that believe in the state. The Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) and the Coordinator of Grassroots Mayan Organizations of Guatemala (COPMAGUA), which acted rather like the URNG’s interethnic social arm between 1994 and 2000, made an alliance with the National Advance Party (PAN) that almost resulted in a co-government. Some indigenous leaders chose to cooperate with President Portillo. President Berger hasn’t really defined a strategy, but Vice President Eduardo Stein has been the Great Conciliator, for example with Rigoberta, who is also on a first name basis with Berger. But, Pop pointed out, this hasn’t translated into any greater allocation of resources, with barely 0.2% of the budget going to indigenous peoples. On the other hand, over 50% of the municipal budget should legally be in the hands of indigenous mayors, who earn the enmity of the state in their losing fight to make that a reality.

In any event, all this would have been different had the eighties not seen the slaughter of indigenous leadership. In the 1996-2000 Congress, it was indigenous women legislators—Aura Marina Otzoy, Rosalina Tuyuc and Manuela Alvarado—who pushed through passage of Convention 169, while Minister of Culture Otilia Lux put a strong personal stamp on her ministry’s work.

To a question from the audience about the capacity of ladinos to profit from diversity and promote these alliances, Pop responded that in Guatemala Mayans don’t know ladinos very well and even the majority of social studies are on indigenous peoples. Shelton Davis, the World Bank’s investment director, spent ten years as an anthropologist in Santa Eulalia, Huehuetenango. CIRMA, Pop’s own research institute, has recently been trying to change that situation through a research project on Guatemala’s diversity called “Why are we the way we are?” which will include a publication and public presentation.

At most, ladinos have been “non-indigenous” up to now, but actually there’s a huge bilingual diversity among them: German-Spanish, English-Spanish, Arab-Spanish, Cantonese-Spanish, Hebrew-Spanish. “The problem,” says Pop, “only arises when the bilingualism is posed or actually exists as Quekchí-Spanish, Quiché-Spanish… And twenty thousand conditions are placed on us to participate as indigenous people. But dialogue is the first step to action.”

“We’re survivors of
the horror and the silence”

As Rigoberta Menchú expressed it, participation is an issue involving only an indigenous elite, and there’s nothing wrong with recognizing that. “The past forty years have impoverished us. Those of us of that age are survivors of the horror and the silence. We carry with us the ‘hangover’ of genocide. Up to the seventies, there was community consensus, but the conflict ripped that apart. Before then, there was no such thing as Civil Self-Defense Patrols or paramilitaries. Will we be able to find new natural leaders, people like my father—killed in the burning of the Spanish Embassy he and others were occupying in 1980—and Álvaro ‘s father? I believe we will, for example through the Municipal Development Councils. But that beheading of the leadership didn’t happen only to us; it also happened to the ladinos.

“The revolutionary movement took on the class struggle but didn’t respect indigenous identity. I’ve been part of the Guatemalan Left and perhaps I could have made a greater contribution if I hadn’t felt so identified with it. We were too class-oriented and militarist: trading one army for another. The Guatemalan Left didn’t understand multiculturalism.

“Participation should involve looking at processes and times; we have to create a culture of alliances. We’ve been very clear about what we want to be: multicultural, multiethnic, multilingual… but how do we do that? The international winds, such as the free trade agreement, aren’t in our hands.

“What would we do with it if they gave us half of the power today?” she challenged in closing. “We’d lose it tomorrow,” Álvaro Pop ventured. “No,” retorted Rigoberta Menchú, “we’d lose it today.”

United or dispersed?

Someone asked if there is unity or diversity in the field of indigenous political participation. Not one to mince words, Rigoberta Menchú responded that there is neither union nor unanimity on the issue of political participation. “Some say ‘party’ while others say ‘movement,’ and a major obstacle to either vision is resources, money. We come out of a great diversity of origins and our western education leads some of us to try to take the lead. But despite all the dispersion, there’s also great hope in Guatemala at the moment and I see it as very fertile. There are leaders, but what we lack are cadres. Being diverse doesn’t necessarily mean being dispersed.

“I don’t believe in an indigenous state within a ladino state, much less a separate one. Neither side has everything in its own hands right now. It would be a major achievement if we could resolve the land problems, whether through a cadastre or the agrarian courts. We’re 150 or 200 years behind the times on many issues, such as agrarian reform. There’s no system. Guatemalan business people have their little system for figuring out daily profits and losses, but that’s only a tiny slice of reality. They’re scared of the free trade agreement and are starting to steal the language that once belonged to the Left. This is the first time I’ve ever agreed with the owners of Guatemalan agriculture. But what are we: Chinese, European or gringo capitalists? I don’t see any system among Guatemala’s wealthy, and if there’s no system, why not create one?”

Álvaro Pop added that the word “division” doesn’t help when talking about participation. There’s diversity and nobody ever asks ladinos to unite. Note, for example, how the Chamber of Commerce pulled out of CACIF, the umbrella organization of Guatemalan business, all because two families were fighting over concessions for the production and commercialization of electricity. An indigenous political party? The “ethnifying” of politics? “No,” he argued, “this is a point of difference with Demetrio Cojtí, one of the indigenous leaders who cooperated with the Portillo administration. I don’t think the state has to be painted Mayan, which would be like mixing politics and religion, making the state confessional. A whole other thing, though, would be to have indigenous-based political parties.”

A member of the audience took issue with that vision, stressing that in addition to diversity there is also disunity and competition that is dividing indigenous communities, especially in Ixcán. “When people returned there from having taken refuge in Mexico, some decided to ask the army to forgive them and others opposed that, but they got a majority to go down on their knees. Both the Church and the URNG were pulled into it. We had real division in our communities, not only diversity, and it’s still there within the political parties and the struggle among them. Will it be possible to find common ground?”

How much racism
and discrimination?

Asked to comment on racism and discrimination, Rigoberta Menchú responded that both are becoming more acute. “We’ve been the dominated masses, and masses are considered a danger, even when dominated. Racism is structural, cultural, religious and legal—discrimination isn’t classified as a crime. I’ve lost any faith that the ladinos in power, in business, can change. Of course, something has changed; in the sixties and seventies, people would rather to talk to a dog, a mutt, than an Indian. But of all the CVs I presented to the Berger administration as candidates for government posts, the only one accepted was Salazar Tezahuic, who ended up in Culture. All others, whether lawyers, professionals, men or women, were overlooked. This is a sect, I told myself, a clan. We’re never going to break into it. Nobody from Xela [Quetzaltenango, home base of the indigenous bourgeoisie] made it in, but those from Zone 14 and other Zones did. They cling to what they have— coercive economic and military power—and can’t let go of any of it. They harden. Even the free trade agreement is hardening them.

“We’ve made conceptual progress—multiethnic, multilingual, at times even multicultural—but we still can’t demand ‘respect for our civilizations’. The word ‘include’ is used as part of the racism pool, and it’s bad for everybody because we’re in the same dirty pool. It’s still said that we shouldn’t be defense minister or head the army or own a business if we’re indigenous. That’s why it bothers them that I’m a businesswoman with popular pharmacies. It doesn’t matter to me that they call me the owner. I began in the capital because if you don’t plant the seed there… Now there are two pharmacies in Xela, two in Cobán, one in Escuintla, one in Tiquisate and one in Quiché. And there are also Rigoberta Menchú medical centers, with 75 consultations a day.”

For Álvaro Pop, racism is a deep system that is not only racial—Tecún Umán’s nose—but also about class and ethnicity. “There was a very in-depth discussion about racism in the 1945 Constituent Assembly. After the peace accords, in contrast, we lost the referendum on the constitutional reforms that would have recognized our cultures, our ethnicities, our languages. Nonetheless, progress is being made. Perhaps in two years, or maybe sooner, we’ll have a Constituent National Assembly that will offer another opportunity, this time one that will be taken advantage off. We need to promote the idea of a Constituent to re-found the republic: a Second Republic. We also have to build democracy. It’s a tough task because there are deep wounds, profound resentments, as well as ancient systems within the Church. Rather than going after the ailment, we have to build health.”

This less optimistic note was sounded from the audience: “Whether you’re black or white, indigenous or ladino,
no more than 500 families can go cure themselves in Houston or New York, and no more than a million can really live. The rest, the other million and a half families, can only eat once a day.”

And what of Mayan spirituality?

Álvaro Pop fielded a question about Mayan spirituality, which he says is officially condemned and extra-officially practiced. Materials for Mayan altars—candles, pom (incense)—can always be found in the markets.

That sparked a dialogue with the audience: “Some foreigners or ladinos want to appropriate spirituality,” said one person. “People who learned their nawal [the symbol of their identity and clue to discerning their path on the Mayan calendar] barely a year ago now want to be chuchkajaw [Mayan priests]. It’s a lack of respect, but they’re our brothers. Can we bestow spirituality to create harmony?”

“In my personal opinion,” answered Pop, “Mayan spirituality is so profound and so generous that it doesn’t belong only to Mayans. I’m not talking about religion but about spirituality, which is deeply rooted in the characteristics of these indigenous groups, in the identity of half the country’s population.”

Rigoberta Menchú added that “religion mustn’t be confused with spirituality, which is a way of life. The guerrilla movement reduced Mayan spirituality to folklore. There’s a mystery here and it’s spirituality. I’ll go out on a limb and say that all the planet’s indigenous peoples practice the same spirituality, although in diverse forms and with diverse materials. We Mayans are the only ones who see what we see in fire. Fortunately, creation wasn’t invented by human beings; nor was their diversity. Indigenous peoples have warned of the consequences of abusing water and the air. I’ve seen many friends die of cancer and they had everything; the same with drugs. The Mayans and other indigenous peoples are profoundly ecumenical. I’m Catholic, but I’ve been very close to the Lutherans. I don’t idealize Mayans. All cultures pay the price for the pain produced by humanity.”

What is the indigenous
political agenda?

Menchú responded to a question about the short- and long-term indigenous political agenda by stating that “we engage in politics with shame, like some kind of moral guilt. They say to me, ‘I see you in the media, in the Cabinet, and who are you?’ There’s no need to see participation in terms of rigid schemes; there are processes. In the peace accords, we were subjected to western rules of participation with the parity commissions, where we rarely moved forward by consensus. But our separate agenda could never be a government agenda.

“I don’t see myself or my return to Guatemala as part of power. Not for 2007 either. I feel like a co-signer of the peace accords, which I supported, and one of my objectives is to work for those accords; I did the decree that Berger signed naming me Peace Accords Ambassador. But not being part of power doesn’t mean I don’t want a Guatemalan agenda, or that I don’t want to see the state from within. Yes, I’m in the Cabinet, but it was dealing mainly with security problems until the middle of last year. Now they’re only dealt with in the security Cabinet. There’s compartmentalization now.

“Whatever information one has, there are five other versions on the other side. They’ve also taken over the genocide program of Rosalina Tuyuc [presidential commissioner for the indemnification program for victims of the internal armed conflict]. And while they asked forgiveness for the murder of Myrna Mack, they also told the Presidential Human Rights Commission (COPREDEH) not to bring them any more cases. The tragedy of the massacres, the genocide, isn’t visible. Those who carry the torch of indemnification will have followers.

“We were disturbed when former Vice Minister of Government Villacorte was appointed to the President’s Strategic Analysis Secretariat since both he and Minister Vielman are from the far Right. What we need instead is tolerant leadership. This government has me worried. I’m with the Vice President, with SEGEPLAN [the General Planning Secretariat], because Hugo Beteta’s still there, and with FONAPAZ [the National Peace Fund], because Asig’s there, and he’s very honest. But I’m fighting for other things, such as the Peace Accords, the Millennium Goals. Better to be in the shadow of a great ceiba tree than that of a scraggly pine. Private enterprise is in a similar position to us, because it doesn’t have cadres either. They want to win the presidency in 2007. And us? Why would we want to be President? What would be the use of me running in the 2007 elections if we don’t have cadres? They’d either poison me or steal my soul.”

“There are two Guatemalas”

Álvaro Pop recalled that a Danish mission arrived two months ago to evaluate the country after having invested so much in it. “They found a society in a state of pre-conflict. There are agrarian problems, indigenous problems, poverty, and the state is unable to deal with it all. This administration doesn’t have political operators, so there’s no reason to fear a leader figure. On the contrary, new processes of democracy need to be explored. Individual rights need to be balanced with collective rights to move toward solidarity.

“The World Bank and International Monetary Fund ‘establishments’ say that the Peace Accords can’t remain in effect longer than ten years, because the country will see a generational change in that period. So they’re basically saying either sign them again or go to war again. That’s terrible. This administration would like to have a Framework Law for the Peace Accords, but if it doesn’t have constitutional rank and doesn’t entail changes to the Constitution, how will it get what is wanted, which is to move from the cease-fire to disarming the country? And with all the other problems still pending… That’s why I said earlier that the important thing is to put all our energies into a Constituent Assembly.”

That brought another interesting observation from the audience. “There are two different Guatemalas in this country: one in the municipal government, among the judges, which functions with the state codes. And the other, which
is of the people, and isn’t governed by codes but by custom, which is how they deal with the theft of a chicken or of a young woman, or drunkenness.”

“We need thousands of
Mayan university students”

Álvaro Pop noted that the era of USAC, the public University of San Carlos, which was aimed at creating professionals for politics, ended with the government of Ramiro de León Carpio [1993-96]. The era of the [Jesuit] Rafael Landívar University (URL) began with President Arzú. The great challenge for the new URL rector is whether the university will be able to rethink the country. Or will this be left to the Francisco Marroquín University? What is needed, Pop suggested, is a scholarship policy with the following criterion: what kind of professional do I want to form, one I would later want to hire for my own business, university or government? “And, of course, don’t give out graduate titles as if they were a free gift from a cornflake box.”

Rigoberta Menchú added her thoughts on this topic: “How can we streamline the formation of human resources in this country? This depends on the universities as well as indigenous people. I don’t see Guatemala developing without an overall education policy that has an inter-cultural component. The Academy of Mayan Languages succeeded in getting official status for the languages, but there are no interpreters from Spanish. We need 30,000 university scholarships without conditioning them to specific careers. They sent 700 medical students to Cuba, 200 of whom will be coming back next year. How many will go to our medical centers? I believe in the academy, but let’s make an even greater contribution. Higher education for the Mayas can’t be something annexed to the university. That’s my criticism of the URL: why not have fully-trained Mayan Jesuits?

“A Mayan university? The idea’s been around for years, starting back in 1993-94. It made it into the government programs with Otilia Lux [as minister of culture]. Even 35 Mayan universities wouldn’t be enough to educate the 10,000, 30,000, 50,000 who want a university education. There’s now a preparatory team. The pillars are the tremendous experience that the La Salle order has had with the huge number of indigenous professionals, teachers who have come out of its Santiago Institute. PRODESA [a La Salle higher education project] has been fundamental, with over 20 organizations involved in it. There are agreements with USAC, and the Xeljú movement [of former Xela mayor Rigoberto Quemé] is part of that effort as well. The Mayan cosmovision is the core of the project and of the dream, but the majors have to be compatible with those of other universities. It can’t be an isolated university. The executive body may be created in another six months.”

“There’s machismo in our culture”

Rosalina Tuyuc, of the Kakchiquel people of Comalapa, Chimaltenango, participated in another dialogue with religious workers and lay people. She founded the National Confederation of Guatemalan Widows (CONAVIGUA) while the war was still going on, was active in the New Guatemala Democratic Front and was elected to Guatemala’s Congress on its ticket for the 1996-2000 term. In 2004, President Berger appointed her to head his Commission for Indemnification of the War Victims. Some of her ideas are captured here.

“Service is something you’re born with. In my case, I had a Christian preparation, which also taught me commitment. But it wasn’t easy because our culture is machista. The catechists believed that women were tainted with too much sin
to touch the Bible. And because I was away from my people for a year, studying nursing, they saw me as some kind of a great guerrilla fighter.

“I was very afraid in the eighties, but deeply wanted to help people. I felt a lot of fear, but there’s a much greater strength helping you. When God gives you a task, He knows how you can defend yourself. The most painful thing in my life was having to leave my family, people, friends. My father said to me: ‘Go all of you; you’re young. We’re old and we’re to blame for having brought you into the world.’

“When we first created the religious associations, we never thought we’d be martyrs in 10 or 15 years. We only thought of helping, of accompanying, of serving in God’s image and likeness. We’ve lost many, many friends, catechists, all our people who disappeared. You don’t forget God, but is He really accompanying us? It’s a sin to doubt God.”

“I felt I was to blame
and only wanted to die”

“I came to the city to work as a maid, not just to earn a salary, but to survive. I was afraid and didn’t leave the house for two years. In 1982, the army had kidnapped my father. The greatest pain is to lose a parent. I said to myself, ‘He’s going to join the list of the disappeared.’ Then when my husband disappeared, I felt life had no meaning. Without family, without a husband. Then there were my children, who didn’t understand. I had to tell them my husband had gone off with another woman. And they were sad; they really missed him.

“For many years I felt I was to blame. When you start out, you never feel the consequences of working for the people. I abandoned my children, although they were always with me; I just wanted to die. I went to some nuns and they understood me and told me: ‘Don’t forget the children.’ I swore on my knees that I’d never get involved in another group. I hoped that the children would get on in life and the family would be okay. But while you might find another husband, another family, it’s never the same.

I pulled myself up selling handicrafts. I wanted them to capture me with the children; I often dreamt of how they would come and kidnap me and how I’d free myself. I understood the value of life; it isn’t like a little animal, or a plant, in which you can buy or sow others of the same color. When life goes, it’s gone for good.”

“Searching for peace
and truth has a price”

“Even though I’d made a promise, I got involved again at the head of another organization. ‘Rosalina,’ they said to me, ‘you can speak Spanish.’ I knocked on the doors of priests and nuns; I understood the ethical, moral commitment of helping the victims. But not all priests and nuns understood us. They saw us as ‘guerrillas’ or ‘communists.’ Even as a legislator, they still intimidated me. ‘You’re going to end up strung up someplace.’ In Nebaj I began the search for the clandestine cemeteries. Searching for peace has a price, and so does the search for truth. One of the achievements on this path is overcoming fear and pointing out truth and injustice.

“The indigenous women are another of the achievements: before they only had obligations, but now they know their rights. Even if they haven’t gone to school, they’ve stood up to the army and to the mayors. Another success is to have gotten rid of forced recruitment.

“Perhaps another is to have broken the silence. Many people were recorded in the REMHI Report [Recovery of the Historic Memory, an inter-diocesan Catholic Church project directed by Monsignor Juan Gerardi, auxiliary bishop of the Archdiocese of Guatemala, assassinated on April 26, 1988, 48 hours after having presented the report] and the CEH report [the Historic Clarification Commission created by the Peace Accords presented its results ten months later in “Guatemala, Memoria del Silencio”].

Another is the disbanding of the Civil Self-Defense Patrols and the paramilitaries, made up of our own brothers, although that reopened political issues. The work for peace is still underway because the truth has yet to be unveiled. It’s impossible to forget with so many disappeared people still to be found.

“I firmly believe that life isn’t just the present; it’s also the past and future. That belief is what keeps me working. I’m capable of pardoning when I have someone before me who is asking my forgiveness. I have a brother who’s a priest and we talk a lot about these things. I understand the Church mission. But then a new day dawns and my father’s image comes to me. Those who saw him hanging tied up, tortured, told me about it only when I started looking for him. The military just said, ‘Don’t cause problems, Rosalina!’ And I’d answer, ‘What do we have courts for?’ First truth, then justice, and then I believe in pardon.”

“The martyrs have
asked this work of you”

“It’s very hard to be in the government, because I know they financed the war. Some executed it and others financed it. It means that those of us who were victims of that war have to do the state’s work.

“I went to talk about this with Monsignor Julio Cabrera, who, like me, is from Comalapa. ‘You haven’t sought this work; the martyrs asked it of you,” he said. ‘You don’t have permission to give it up. Don’t allow the money to be used for other things.’ And the elders told me; ‘This is your cross.”

I firmly believe that this country has to change, and that we indigenous peoples, despite being the most battered by the discrimination and racism, have to stop talking about war and build peace. Peace is everybody’s task.”

“Stop calling them
communists or guerrillas”

“The Presidential Commission for Indemnification of the Victims that I head was formed on June 6, 2004, to attend to those forcibly recruited, the families of those disappeared and murdered, the raped women... We have to create a registry of beneficiaries. There are approximately 45,000 disappeared, and some 250,000 victims in total, for which we have a budget of 300 million quetzals (US$40 million). It’s a 13-year program. The Berger government named half of the commission members and civil society proposed the other half.

“The indemnification is partly cultural: recovering the language, compensating for forced displacement, loss of clothing or home, the burning of forests and destruction of springs. And it’s psychosocial: treating ailments triggered by the pain people have suffered. It’s also material: repairing burned or demolished houses and recovering lost land with productive projects. The indemnification also gives people back their dignity: ceasing to call the victims communists or guerrillas, instead making them citizens whose names adorn monuments or public works. And finally it’s financial; not paying for a lost life, which has no price, but helping to subsidize loneliness, displacement, incapacity, loss of memory and premature aging. The widows will be priorities.

“This compensation is for civilian victims. Some former patrol members can get into the program, but only as victims—because they were forcibly recruited, for example. Those who applied to receive the first payment made by the Portillo government are ineligible.

There won’t be enough funds to do everything, mainly because the army hasn’t been disarticulated; the patrol members are there again. It’s very difficult work, because the victims continue to be condemned. The state invested a lot in the war, but it doesn’t want to invest in harmony and peace.”

“If it’s not with the Church…”

“I want the Church to continue speaking out: in the search for justice, which has to do with military power and with the judges; in accompanying the communities in the exhumations, as well as people who were ‘raped’ one way or another; and in the compensation work. I want the Church to be an ally. We have to get past the shortcomings of dialogue and the fear generated by distrust, because the war sowed a great deal of distrust. We have to consolidate the fact that we’re allies in the search for justice and peace, something I feel the hierarchy wasn’t up to following Monsignor Gerardi’s death, although they’ve begun to recover it in the case of mining, for example, by demanding that the communities be respected. We have to consolidate what everybody signed, to collaborate in the reconstruction of the social fabric.

“We have to opt for the poor, not the politicians, and much less the military or oligarchy. There has to be respect for processes based on the Mayan peoples’ cosmovision. And if we can’t find it with the Church, where can we expect to find it? When we speak of the poor, we’re speaking of both indigenous and non-indigenous. And of loyalty to God. Indigenous and poor people are in many other parts of the world as well, not just here. I feel that states have a tendency to criminalize the poor. And it’s the work of religious workers to encourage respect for life.”

A breath of fresh air

The words, ideas and actions of these three Mayans who are helping build hope come as a breath of fresh air. They have defined the challenges for those in power in Guatemala and for those who want to use actions, ideas and words to help build a new country.


Juan Hernández Pico is envío’s correspondent in Guatemala.

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