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  Number 301 | Agosto 2006
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Guatemala

Could “Evo” Happen in Guatemala?

What’s happening in Bolivia and in Evo Morales’ government could have repercussions in Guatemala, but perhaps not until 2011. What similarities and differences between the situations in the two countries might bode for a similar change in Guatemala?

Juan Hernández Pico, SJ

In Bolivia, for the first time in Latin America’s history, an indigenous citizen, Evo Morales, and his Movement Toward Socialism (MAS) party won an absolute majority in two consecutive national elections: the December 2005 presidential election and the election of a Constituent Assembly in July of this year. Although they will have to form alliances with other political forces in the assembly to move ahead with their project for a new Constitution that will pave the way for a multicultural, non-neoliberal state, these unprecedented victories are already writing a new chapter in the continent’s history.

Could the “Evo” phenomenon happen any time soon in Guatemala, another country with a majority indigenous population?

Is it time for an indigenous President?

The result of a survey byVox Latina in May and June of this year surprised Guatemalans: over two-thirds of those polled (71.2%) affirmed that in the next elections, in late 2007, they would be open to voting for an indigenous presidential candidate. This finding is consistent with two others: 85.6% said they’d like to see a new leader arise in the next elections, someone who would come as a surprise; and 88.8% said they’d like to see an alternative to the presidential candidates mentioned thus far.

In August 2005, envío reported the opinion of Rigoberta Menchú, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize laureate, that Guatemala’s indigenous people would not run a candidate for President in 2007 because they had not yet trained enough mid-level personnel to form an indigenous governing team. Both Menchú, whose native language is K’iche’-Uspanteko, and political commentator/recognized civic leader Alvaro Pop, a K’ekchi speaker, spoke out strongly against the idea of forming an indigenous state or party. “I don’t believe in a state within a state, much less two separate states,” said Menchú. Pop agreed: “An indigenous political party? Bring ethnicity into politics? No, I don’t think we have to paint the state Mayan. That would be like bringing religion into politics, like forming a religious state. Another thing would be to have several political parties with indigenous support.”

These views by Guatemala’s two best-known indigenous leaders coincide with those of 71.2% of the people polled by Vox Latina in projecting that there will be an indigenous President in the country’s future. But their time frames differ.

How big is our indigenous
population and do we admit it?

The UN Development Program’s 2004 Human Development Report, Cultural Liberty in Today’s Diverse World, includes a chart listing the indigenous population’s percentage of each Latin American country’s total population, compiled by David de Ferranti of the World Bank. This report shows Bolivia, with 71%, having the largest percentage of indigenous residents, followed by Guatemala with 66%, Peru with 47%, Ecuador with 38%, Honduras with 15% and Mexico with 14%. The UNDP’s 2005 Human Development Report on Guatemala, Ethnic and Cultural Diversity: Citizenship in a Plural State, provides somewhat different figures: 66.2% in Bolivia, between 25 and 48% in Peru, 6.8% in Ecuador and 7.9% in Mexico.

Guatemala’s own 2002 Population and Habitation Census lists indigenous people as only 39.5% of the country’s population. John Early, a US social scientist, studied several Guatemalan censuses taken before 1973 and made corrections that increased the indigenous population’s percentage by 3-5 points, which while not an insignificant amount doesn’t change the fact that the population that clearly identifies itself as indigenous still appears as a minority.

Indigenous population figures are invariably a battleground. States prefer to see low numbers because they don’t want to have to respond to demands such as those contained, for example, in the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 on the rights of indigenous peoples. In addition, many indigenous people would prefer not to be seen as such because they feel the racism and discrimination in their societies. The percentage of indigenous people in Guatemala’s total population has been decreasing census after census, from 69% in 1880 to 39.5% in 2002, although the absolute number of people who identify as indigenous has increased: from 1,491,725 (53.45%) in 1950 to 3,832,443 (42.72%) in 1994.

Could “Evo” happen in the
short or medium run?

What is undeniable in Guatemala is the strong presence of indigenous people’s identity and culture. This remains true even after the brutal attempt to decimate the indigenous population only 26 years ago, with hundreds of massacres and the forced displacement of over half a million people.

The Agreement on the Identity and Rights of Indigenous Peoples, one of the Peace Accords signed in 1996, speaks of Guatemala for the first time as a “multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual” nation. This is an important step forward over the 1985 Constitution, which condescendingly reads that “Guatemala is made up of diverse ethnic groups, including indigenous groups of Mayan descent” (article 66). It hasn’t yet been possible to reform the Constitution, however, and Vice President Eduardo Stein recognized in his report on the government’s first two and a half years in office that “the hardest, most complicated part is that the delays in implementing the indigenous agenda are related to the agrarian situation.”

This is the context in which we have to ask ourselves whether “Evo” could happen in Guatemala, whether any time in the foreseeable future we could elect an indigenous President.

Two Incomparable histories:
1. Political party experience

It may be helpful to compare the historic and current situations for indigenous people in Bolivia and Guatemala in order to understand the two countries’ pasts and imagine Guatemala’s future. To begin with, no indigenous man or woman has ever been a presidential candidate in Guatemala, except Rigoberto Quemé Chay for a brief time in 2003 before he renounced the nomination. And only two indigenous people have been vice presidential candidates, both nominated by leftist parties, in 1995 and 2003. The results were modest.

The leftist parties that nominated these indigenous candidates, especially the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Union (URNG) in 2003, cannot be compared to Evo Morales’ MAS in Bolivia. The MAS grew out of the struggle of previous indigenous political parties and social movements: the Tupac Katari Revolutionary Movement, most active in rural areas; the more urban Tupac Katari Indigenous Movement; and the coca workers’ movement in Chapare, led by Evo Morales himself. These movements evolved until they led first to the United Left Party and finally to the MAS, both made up mostly of indigenous people, that formed alliances with traditional non-indigenous leftist groups. In contrast, both the New Guatemala Democratic Front in 1995 and the post-Peace Accords URNG are essentially traditional leftist parties whose indigenous members are very much a minority in both the rank-and-file and the leadership.

2. Electoral experiences

Bolivia’s indigenous movements and parties participated in elections for many years before winning in December 2005 with Evo Morales, an Aymara, as their presidential candidate. In Guatemala, in contrast, the more likely possibility would seem to be some isolated indigenous candidate being elected Pesident from a party that doesn’t have an indigenous majority among its members or leaders, and that has treated its indigenous voters paternalistically, as political clientele. In the current process in Bolivia, according to that country’s Jesuit anthropologist Xavier Albó, “the social sectors and organizations gained force and the MAS allied with other leftist sectors, rejuvenated by the atmosphere of the ‘other possible world’ proposed in the World Social Forum.” In short, the historical trajectory of the indigenous groups in Bolivia and Guatemala are very different, as are the recent events they have gone through.

3. History of struggle

Never in Guatemala did indigenous rebels lay siege to the capital and keep it up for four months, as happened in La Paz with the Aymara rebellion led by Tupac Katari in 1781. Perhaps this is why someone like Atanasio Tzul—an indigenous rebel in Totonicapán, Guatemala, in the early 19th century—never acquired the same kind of mythical-historical leadership that Tupac Katari or Tupac Amaru have in Bolivia. In Guatemala, it’s “la indiada”—the “Indian hordes”—in general that are feared. This fear stems from the over 300 uprisings documented by historian Severo Martínez Peláez that took place locally or regionally but never covered the entire colonial or national territory. The fear of“la indiada” perhaps reflects a fear that the uprisings of indigenous towns during the colonial period or indigenous municipalities today could trigger massive rebellion of all indigenous groups in the country, in fact of indigenous people as a whole.

Guatemala’s historical self-image includes no personal mythical-symbolic flag bearer. Tecún Umán is too far in the past, at the very start of the Conquest, and has been co-opted by Guatemalans of Spanish descent as the indigenous cacique defeated by Pedro de Alvarado, generously and honorably elevated to the rank of national hero.

More significant perhaps is the fact that the Bolivian indigenous groups in the highlands have for the most part only two distinct languages—Aymara and Quechua—although there are also Guaranis and other groups in the vast eastern territory. Guatemala, in contrast, has four large language groups—K’iche’, Kakchiquel, K’ekchi and Mam—living in a small region in the highlands and the jungle along with 18 other groups with different languages. Even deeper into the roots of all this is the fact that the conquistadors found a Mayan empire already divided and in decay, while in Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, they found a united Inca empire still in its full splendor.

4. National modernization attempts

In more recent times, Guatemala and Bolivia made a very similar entry into the 20th century. Both countries attempted an initial capitalist modernization with an emphasis on land reform at nearly the same time: through the October Revolution led by Juan José Arévalo and Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala (1944-54) and the Revolutionary Nationalist Movement (MNR) revolution led by Víctor Paz Estenssoro and Hernán Siles Suazo in Bolivia (1952-1964). But the similarities stop there. Albó wrote that, within twenty years, “the state capitalism that had been imposed by Paz Estenssoro in the National Revolution of 1952 was dismantled.” While it lasted, it involved a series of nationalizations, especially of the tin and other mines and the first oil deposits discovered in the country, which led to the rise of the powerful Bolivian Workers’ Federation.
Paz Estenssoro managed to sustain this state capitalism by allying his MNR with the military, but that later led to the dictatorships of Generals Barrientos, Ovando, Bánzer and García Meza, among others.

In Guatemala, in contrast, state capitalism was never consolidated through a lasting land reform and nationalized mining industry. The 1952 land reform was overturned two years later when the country was “liberated” with the CIA’s help at the behest of United Fruit Company. US Secretary of State John Foster Dulles had worked as a lawyer for the company, and his brother Allan Dulles was the CIA director during President Eisenhower‘s term, which was also the time of Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Cold War hysteria. Guatemalan Foreign Minister Guillermo Toriello’s nationalist language in the OAS Assembly in Caracas challenged the United States and the Czech weapons that never made it past Puerto Barrios became the pretext for the CIA actions. Above all, the land reform was overturned by the military’s betrayal, its failure to act against the small “liberation army” led by the ruthless Colonel Castillo Armas.

5. Relationship to market forces?

In his commentary on the Bolivian situation, Albó wrote, “Since 1985 an economy open to outside market forces, at least in Bolivia, left the poor even more vulnerable than before, because of their worse relation to the market.”

Guatemala’s “poor”—who aren’t that poor if we’re referring to the indigenous businesspeople of Quetzaltenango or San Francisco el Alto—aren’t as defenseless against market forces, including those from across the country’s borders in El Salvador and Mexico, as were the poor in Bolivia. The businesses of poor Guatemalans seem to find a way to adapt and survive, even within the context of the Central American Free Trade Agreement with the United States (CAFTA), given Guatemala’s tradition of commerce, despite the fact that much of it is based in the informal economy. In fact, the transformation of some poor people into “small exporters,” such as the vegetable producers in the department of Chimaltenango, gives them new prospects, although it remains to be seen whether they will be crushed by US or European producers further along in the implementation of free trade agreements if farmers in the North continue to receive such high subsidies.

6. Social unrest

Albó also referred to Bolivia’s prolonged crisis in recent years: “Beginning in 2000, the neoliberal model softened by a few social concessions began to enter into crisis, with a new period of social unrest.” Guatemala hasn’t recently seen the kind of social unrest that was set off in Bolivia in 2000 after Cochabamba’s water distribution was privatized to the transnational Bechtel Corporation, which then raised prices without improving the service. Social unrest also arose over the coca battle in Chapare, when a US military base tried to eradicate the culturally historic plant because of alleged ties between the indigenous coca growers and drug traffickers.

It is likely that the militarizing of Guatemala’s grassroots social organizations during the war was at least partly responsible for their demobilization once peace came. In recent years, only the teachers’ movement and the former civil self-defense patrols—which are still militarized—have managed to achieve anything significant. The peasant movement, which includes both indigenous and non-indigenous peasants, has been stirred up by the massive layoffs of agricultural workers in the coffee crisis, the occupation of farms and evictions, and has been keeping up a persistent struggle. But so far, the state has kept them under control through talks that go nowhere. The doctors employed in the state hospitals have also been fighting for their demands.

During the current administration, several social forces came together to oppose the legislature’s ratification of CAFTA. They were forcefully repressed and after failing to achieve their objective gave up their battle in the streets, moving it instead to the Constitutional Court.

There is currently nothing in Guatemala similar to Bolivia’s social convulsions. Not even the problem of organized crime, supported by gangs that are also militarized and linked to drug trafficking, has managed to get people out into the streets to demand a solution.

3. Union experience

There was a large workers’ movement in Guatemala in the 1970s, but it was crushed by military repression, and the remnants of the urban workers’ unions consist of a handful of leaders and fewer followers. The situation is very different in Bolivia, which still has strong factory and mining unions.

There was never a miners’ movement In Guatemala like the one in Bolivia, except for a brief time among the miners of Ixtahuakan. Neither the oil in the Petén nor the nickel in Izabal nor the gold in San Marcos has given rise to a strong labor movement.

Guatemala’s problem has been how to regulate mining to ensure that it doesn’t devastate the environment and that the transnational mining companies don’t repatriate all the benefits, leaving the mining towns as ghost towns after an ephemeral boom. Put another way, the issue is how to financially and ecologically protect the state and the municipalities where the mines are located. The resistance to mining in Guatemala has been led not by the miners, as in Bolivia, but by environmental groups and the Catholic Church hierarchy. Nor is there the experience of struggle in Guatemala’s informal economy that the massive incorporation of former miners has injected into Bolivia’s informal economy.

8. Peasant organizations

In Bolivia, the activism of the silver and tin miners in the past and the oil and natural gas workers today, who make up the bulk of the Bolivian Workers’ Federation, has been echoed by the activism of peasant farmers and more exactly, as Albó wrote, of a “peasant movement increasingly aware of its indigenous identity.” The Aymara and the mostly Quechua coca growers are especially significant.

In Guatemala there’s the National Council of Campesino Organizations (CNOC) and the National Indigenous Campesino Confederation (CONIC), whose identity is emphatically indigenous. But neither of these organizations has the strength of Bolivia’s United Farm Workers Confederation (CSUTCB), which has remained active ever since the MNR Revolution of 1952. The Guatemalan “agraristas” or agrarian activists of 1952 were repressed and dispersed with absolute efficacy.

In Guatemala, the grassroots indigenous social movements have not yet been able to form a large peasant movement such as the one that developed in Bolivia through the CSUTCB and led to the formation of the lowlands Colonizers’ Federation. This movement has been crucial to the land reform that is again being promoted by Evo Morales’ government, drawing on the idle lands of large landowners in Santa Cruz, in the eastern part of the country.

9. An “ethnic agenda”

A “Katarist” ethnic movement—named for Tupac Katari, the anti-colonial Aymara hero—got underway in Bolivia in the 1970s. It was made up largely of Aymara, who are 25% of Bolivia’s population and are mainly located in the highlands of La Paz and Oruro. In 1978, the military-peasant pact broke down when the Banzer dictatorship fell and two movements were created: the Tupac Katari Revolutionary Movement (MRTK), which was more closely tied to the CSUTCB, and the Tupac Katari Indigenous Movement (MITK), which was more ideological and urban. Both soon became parties.

In Guatemala, the United Campesino Committee (CUC) was formed in 1978. It was based on class rather than ethnicity, and grew out of an alliance between poor indigenous and non-indigenous farmers. It evolved into a civilian wing of the Guerrilla Army of the Poor, was militarized within the URNG, then once again became a social movement with the end of the war. In the 1970s, the Mayan Movement, made up of intellectuals and professionals, also began to take shape in the capital.

As parties, the MRTK and the MITK formed the United Left and then the Movement Toward Socialism and participated in three elections held while the country was on its rocky path, interrupted by military coups, to begin its transition to democracy in 1982. That, ironically, was the very year of the Guatemalan government’s scorched earth policy and the war’s worst indigenous massacres.

A handful of Aymara representatives were elected during this period and introduced the “ethnic agenda” into Bolivian politics. In Guatemala there have been indigenous representatives in Congress for several decades, including indigenous women since 1995, but they have always been elected as members of non-indigenous political parties and have never introduced an ethnic agenda in Congress.

10. Vital resources

Another important indigenous movement in Bolivia is made up of the coca growers, especially in Chapare, 200 kilometers from Cochabamba. Most of its members are internal migrants from the Andean regions, and most of them are Quechua. Evo Morales, although Aymara, is one of these migrants; he’s originally from Orinoca, a small rural community in Oruro. The coca growers are fighting against eradication of the crop and of all it represents to Bolivia’s indigenous people. Their slogans—“Coca yes, cocaine no” and “Cocaine zero, coca 1 cato per family” (1 cato = 0.16 hectares)—have taken on an ethnic-nationalist character. No vital, traditional crop has been threatened this way in Guatemala, neither corn nor beans nor chili, although it may well be that the first two will be by the free trade agreement, with the importation of yellow corn and transgenic crops.

Furthermore, no significant energy resources have been found in Guatemala on the scale of Bolivia’s oil and natural gas reserves—the latter purportedly the clean, non-contaminating energy of the future. Large deposits of iron and magnesium have recently been found in Bolivia as well.

How the two countries are similar:
1. Disillusionment with political parties

There is growing disillusionment with political parties in Guatemala as in Bolivia. Guatemala’s Revolutionary Party, the successor to the parties of the October Revolution, disappeared from the map some time ago. The National Revolutionary Movement in Bolivia has been discredited but hasn’t entirely disappeared, as it was able to elect some legislators and departmental governors in this year’s elections.

Of the parties that have governed during the democratic transition in Guatemala—the Christian Democrats, the Solidarity Action Movement, the National Alliance Party and the Guatemalan Republican Front—none has been able to hold on to office for more than one term, and it is unlikely that the Grand National Alliance currently in power will break that record (81.8% of those polled in Vox Latina’s recent survey did not believe it would). Congress has thoroughly discredited itself: 86.9% of those polled feel that the current legislators aren’t defending their interests, while 78% feel that they’re doing a bad job in general.

In Bolivia people talk about the inefficiency, incompetence and generalized corruption of the state apparatus, which ranks among the worst in the continent. Guatemala shares both plagues.

There have been sharp conflicts between the executive and legislative branches in Guatemala since 2004. This was also the case in the 1990s, during Ramiro de León Carpio’s term in office, and was the case in Bolivia from 2000 to 2005. Furthermore, Guatemala’s Supreme Court and the rest of the judicial branch, the Attorney General along with most of his team and the National Civil Police are all failing miserably in their efforts to address the violence and impunity that continue to afflict the country.

Some of the new Constitutional Court members have yet to be named and in these circumstances, it may well be difficult to form an independent majority. The results of the upcoming elections for comptroller and human rights ombudsperson are still very much up in the air. All of this uncertainty could lead to greater conflict as well as greater impunity and corruption, which could well take Guatemala into a chaotic situation similar to the one Bolivia went through from 2000 to 2005. Could it be time for a constitutional solution to the crisis that would pave the way to elections that an indigenous leader might win?

2. Comparable divisions and alliances?

Guatemala’s indigenous identity can be found in its peasant movements, especially CONIC. Painful conflicts between the various movements, however, have resulted in a lack of unity. Furthermore, both the agrarian activists of the 1944-54 revolutionary period and three of the four groups that made up the URNG tended to neglect the peasants’ indigenous identity and focus instead on the class-based identity of “the poor.” This was also the case in the National Bolivian Revolution of Paz Estenssoro and Siles Suazo in 1952.

Although Guatemala’s CUC has based its identity more on class than on ethnicity, no one could ignore the fact that for the most part the war from 1972 to 1996 took place on indigenous lands in the central and western highlands and northeastern jungles. This hadn’t been the case previously, from 1962 to 1968, when it was mainly located in the less indigenous eastern part of the country. Because of this, the URNG was perceived as getting dangerously close to leading an indigenous rebellion. The roots of the genocide and ethnic-racist massacres lie in this fear, according to the Historical Clarification Commission.

One of Bolivia’s Aymara leaders, Felipe Quispe, who is known as “Mallku”—Aymara for “authority,” perhaps equivalent to the K’iche’ term k’amal b’e or “guide along the way”—was involved in a small guerrilla movement associated with leftist university leaders like Alvaro García Linera, who once fought with the Nicaraguan guerrillas against Somoza and is now Vice President of Bolivia. This movement had ties to Peru’s Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, which occupied the Japanese Embassy, but not to Sendero Luminoso. It is thus possible to compare this Bolivian process with the participation of indigenous people in the URNG, in which Rigoberta Menchú was also involved in her youth. The divisions between Bolivia’s indigenous movements—the MRTK and the MITK—can also be found among the indigenous peasant movements in Guatemala.

3. Similar laws, similar disillusionment

Bolivia’s education reform (1993-97), with its intercultural bilingual focus, can be compared to the reforms that Demetrio Cojtí, a Mayan intellectual, tried to promote as deputy minister of education in 2000-2004, and perhaps before that to those promoted by Alfonso Tay, minister of education under President de León Carpio. Both were questioned by the teachers, however, who saw them as threats to their job security.

The Agrarian Reform Law in Bolivia (1993-97), which both supported large lowland soy and lumber producing companies and recognized indigenous territories, could be compared in Guatemala to the exploitation of lumber in the Petén and ratification of the International Labor Organization’s Convention 169 on indigenous people’s rights in 1997.

The Bolivian Grassroots Participation Law (1993-97), which breathed new life into rural municipalities, could be compared in Guatemala to the decentralization laws and the creation of Community and Municipal Development Councils under Portillo’s government (2000-2004).

Furthermore, all of these laws can be compared in some way to the 1996 Peace Accords, which aimed, as in Bolivia, to find what Albó called “social correctives” after the “neoliberal shock,” which in Bolivia established “a neoliberal economy open to globalization but with a certain social touch, frequently presented to the world as a successful model worth imitating in other Latin American countries.”

In Guatemala people have tried to address agrarian conflicts through the Social Investment Fund, the Land Fund, the Agrarian Affairs Secretariat and, at least nominally, the Catastral Law and Agrarian Tribunals. Albó wrote that similar initiatives in Bolivia “did not go as far as people had imagined,” which mirrors the disillusionment people have felt in Guatemala over the failure to implement the Peace Accords.

4. Indigenous autonomy

In Guatemala as in Bolivia, proposals have been made to establish some kind of indigenous autonomy. This wouldn’t divide the highlands from the lowlands in Guatemala, since it’s obvious that there’s no longer social or political recognition of the highlands here as “indigenous” in any sense beyond the folkloric. But Mayan intellectuals, especially Demetrio Cojtí, have proposed a kind of autonomy, including territorial autonomy, for the indigenous peoples. Their demands are reflected in the UNDP’s 2005 report on Guatemala calling for “the implementation of a system of autonomy and shared power,” which is also beginning to take shape: “A first step would be the definition of election districts on ethnic and linguistic bases, and the election of indigenous representatives by separate lists so they will be responsible to their indigenous electors.”

In Guatemala, there’s a long tradition of identifying indigenous identity with a particular town or, these days, with a municipality. For Mayan identity to be accepted as a national identity, it will take a Mayan leader who can democratically pull such a project together and organize the state to promote it. This would most likely provoke a fair amount of conflict and unease in the country, which in turn would probably be exacerbated by the effects of the free trade agreement and perhaps by the discovery of strategic natural resources on indigenous lands.

5. Drug trafficking,
migration and racism

One factor common to the current conflicts of both Guatemala and Bolivia is that both countries are corridors for drug trafficking and migrants. In Guatemala, the migration is headed north, while in Bolivia it’s headed south, to Argentina and Brazil, as well as to Spain.

In both Bolivia and Guatemala, the media is infused with racism. The Guatemalan media has reacted to Evo Morales’ victory with disdain, especially in editorials and opinion columns. This can be explained by the traditional fear that “la indiada” might organize in a similar way and eventually win an election here.

President Rigoberta Menchú?

Guatemala has an indigenous leader of Evo Morales’ stature in Rigoberta Menchú, although her experience is more at the international than the national level and her organizational base lies in a foundation rather than a grassroots social movement. In addition, she’s working with the current government as Good Will Ambassador to promote support and financing for implementation of the Peace Accords; Morales, on the other hand, never worked with any government.

Some indigenous Guatemalans have not forgiven Menchú for her foundation’s intervention in the post-war conflicts in Ixcan, which they saw as divisive. Others question her activities as a businessperson and co-owner of pharmacies that sell generic drugs. But the surveys show that she is the most widely recognized figure in the country, familiar to 96.5% of the population. And she is the most positively viewed: 66.6% of the people polled have a good opinion of her compared to 22.9% with a bad opinion.

Menchú has said that “the indigenous challenge in the coming years is to participate in power” and that “we need a political instrument that will bring indigenous people to power.” If she were elected some day—and it appears likely that she will run in 2011—she would be assured of an international welcome similar to that enjoyed by Morales in his lightning trip around the world. And if she were to win, no one would think it strange to see her wearing her indigenous clothing, which is already familiar around the world, should she choose to do so as President.

Other potential candidates: Pop, Cojtí, Quemé Chay, Lux de Cotí...

Menchú is not the only one considering a run for President. Alvaro Pop is also thinking about politics. In response to the results of the recent survey he said, “An indigenous figure could arise in any party, sector or scenario. The problem is that the non-indigenous political leaders haven’t overcome their paternalism and discrimination. Many still feel that all indigenous people should be together in a segregated party.”

Demetrio Cojtí, a prolific political writer, may also have higher political aspirations. And Rigoberto Quemé Chay, who served as mayor of Quetzaltenango for two consecutive terms, is leading a small, recently formed indigenous party named CASA, which is still really no more than a committee. Another prominent figure is Otilia Lux de Cotí, both a former minister of culture and a former commissioner for the Clarification of Historical Memory.

There are also indigenous leaders in the country’s non-indigenous parties who could be viable candidates for President, such as Haroldo Quej and Aura Marina Otzoy, both Guatemalan Republican Front representatives, and Pablo Ceto, who has been both a legislator and a vice presidential candidate for the URNG.

Some of these potential candidates could gain office through elections, as in Bolivia. In the opinion of Vilma Sánchez, director of the “Moloj” Mayan Women’s Political Association, this would best be achieved through the formation of a party “with a pluralistic vision in which Mayans, ladinos, Xincas and Garífunas all participate,” a party that might be organized by some of these indigenous leaders. Another option would be to run for the nomination of one the current parties. Rigoberto Quemé Chay has already announced that he will participate in the primary elections of the Grand National Alliance, current President Oscar Berger’s party.

As in Bolivia, such a victory could be the first step towards a Constituent Assembly that would found the Second Republic, as Alvaro Pop has suggested, a non-neoliberal republic more open to pluralism within the state.

What’s happening with Evo Morales?

It will be important to follow the work of Evo Morales and his government closely, to assess the government ministers’ competence and qualifications. It will also be important to observe the alliance among the Aymara, Quechua and other indigenous groups from the lowlands, as well as between indigenous and non-indigenous sectors, especially capable leftists and some representative of Santa Cruz’s wealthy elite.

We must also pay close attention to Evo Morales’ response to external challenges: coca-cocaine, natural resources, negotiations with Chile over access to the sea, competition with Venezuela for the sale and distribution of natural gas, and negotiations with transnational energy companies. The path taken by the Constituent Assembly and the proposed solution to the issue of autonomy will be especially strategic matters.

Evo’s performance in Bolivia will have consequences on the likelihood that one of Guatemala’s indigenous leaders now involved in the social movements of all kinds and/or in one of the few indigenous political organizations could be elected President of the country.

Just as the alliance of indigenous and non-indigenous sectors in the Lucio Gutiérrez government in Ecuador didn’t have the hoped-for results, Evo Morales’ hopefully good performance will unquestionably have repercussions in Guatemala, although it seems unlikely that this would happen before 2011. In any case, the echo of the indigenous movements in Bolivia or Ecuador or of the Zapatistas in Mexico will never be able to take the place of a social and political movement with indigenous participation and leadership inside Guatemala. It’s one thing to see what they’re doing somewhere else, and another to do it here. The “showcase effect” is never anything more than an inspiration.


Juan Hernández Pico, sj, is the envío correspondent in Guatemala.

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