Envío Digital
Central American University - UCA  
  Number 307 | Febrero 2007



Ten Years of Peace: Three Appraisals

The Peace Accords were signed in Guatemala ten years ago. Three Guatemalans with very different experiences measure the achievements, the progress, the setbacks and the many important commitments still pending.

Gustavo Porras, Lidia Morales y Demetrio Cojtí

Gustavo Porras, a sociologist sat on the commission that accompanied the peace accords between 1997 and 1999. We begin with this measured structural and conceptual assessment from someone who was on the inside of the process.

Guatemalan politics entered a new era of inclusive democracy on December 29, 1996. Its legal underpinnings had been laid in the 1985 Constitution but it only began to be put into practice when the URNG guerrilla movement became a legal party. Before this, dictatorships ruled, coups were carried out and we lived in a false “democracy” under military guardianship. Our democracy was inclusive only during the “ten years of spring” (1944-1954), an experience that ended with a counter-revolution that marred our nation’s life for at least thirty years. Its elevation of political exclusion to constitutional rank was the primary motive for the armed conflict.

The peace itself
was a great achievement

The fundamental goal of the negotiations and the major achievement of signing a peace agreement was peace itself, the end to political violence. It’s the starting point for dealing with the profound challenges and the backwardness affecting our country under better circumstances. The organizations that fought an armed revolution for 60 years based their decision to do so on the absence of any legal arena in which to fight for peaceful change. They refused to accept the Guatemalan state as legitimate and proposed to overthrow it and build a new one. Signing the peace agreement meant recognizing the legitimacy of the state, the political institution of representative democracy and the existence of opportunities for legal political struggle.

With the end of political violence and repression, Guatemala began to experience a climate of freedom previously known only during 1944-1954. This has had many effects, some of which are still just beginning but will become more evident and have more impact over time. In addition to the widening of the political spectrum, conditions are becoming favorable for social and popular organizing. Freedom of thought and expression is being felt not only in politics but also in the cultural terrain. There is unprecedented space for discussion and debate. Guatemala is experiencing a cultural rebirth that is expressed, among other ways, in writing and artistic production. A fundamental component of this new climate is the demilitarization of the state.

Strengthening the state
doesn’t threaten the free market

The Peace Accords contain unresolved points that if implemented would require changes in the socioeconomic system. At the risk of being a little schematic, the major advances of peace have been in the areas where there was sufficient will on both sides: integration of the URNG and its organization as a legal political force, demilitarization and social investment patterns corresponding to the negotiated increments. Fulfillment of the legislative agenda was important, even with the vacuum left by the failure to approve constitutional reforms. Also worthy of mention are some changes in the state, especially the creation of structures related to indigenous issues.

The Accords anticipated a state with a normative role in economic issues. This is almost impossible in today’s world, whose marginal countries have lost economic sovereignty. They must adjust to the world economy’s imperatives, dictated by big international capital. In addition, no government since the Accords has put a premium on encouraging and supporting grassroots economic betterment; to the degree that it happens today, it is only by tremendous personal initiative and luck.

From the viewpoint of the state’s actions and obligations, taxes still need to be raised to 12% of the gross domestic product, and even at that they’d be the lowest in Central America. Greater and more equitable taxation isn’t simply about fulfilling a commitment; it’s increasingly unavoidable because it has to do with much more than financing social policies. Public safety, for example, requires far more resources. Strengthening the state doesn’t threaten the free market. Many examples show that the market works better in countries that have solid and sufficient institutions, as in Chile.

Sum-up: Positive but contradictory

If we analyze the link between the Peace Accords and democracy, it must be noted that, while we now have inclusive democracy and an electoral system whose results aren’t questioned, the political system and the state institutions are still deteriorating. This is caused in part by their own contradictions, vices and limitations, but also by a severe campaign to discredit them, in large part conducted by the media.

Perhaps we’re witnessing the start of a new phase of political development, in which institutionalized parties will prevail over the traditional caudillos, a system with little left to offer. Perhaps the evolving civic consciousness of Guatemalans will provide the decisive pressure to transform a political system that is increasingly showing signs of obsolescence. Like any phenomenon, peace has been both positive and contradictory for the country. New issues have been added to those that existed before. Clearly, organized crime has had the most impact, but the political peace has created better conditions for coping with it.

* * *

Lidia Morales, a feminist physician, offers an appraisal from the perspective of women, particularly indigenous women, on the spaces that have been opened, how they have been used and where the progress has lagged or been set aside.

Shaky political will

The Women’s Sector is a network of diverse organizations and individual women that was fundamental to getting a women-specific agenda included in the last stage of the Peace Accord negotiations and continues to participate proactively in its fulfillment. A recent analysis offers sufficient evidence to show that the poverty and social inequality that were the principal causes of the conflict still exist, despite the opening of political opportunities and the end of generalized repression.

The final report of the United Nations Mission for Guatemala (MINUGUA) states that poverty levels have remained the same (57%) and extreme poverty has increased (27.5%). It attributes this to the “shaky political will” of the groups in power regarding the key commitments of the “Agreement on Socioeconomic Factors and the Agricultural Situation” (fiscal and tax reform, land access, prioritization of social policies, increase in social program spending).

The human development indicators and available information on literacy, school attendance and participation in both elected and appointed government posts continue to largely exclude women and indigenous people. Obviously indigenous women are the most excluded.

Two important
contributions for women

The Peace Accords made two important contributions to the cause of women. They recognized and made visible “women’s insufficiently-valued contribution to economic and social development” and broke with the dominant tendency to segregate women’s problems exclusively to “women’s spaces” by cross-integrating them into five of the substantive agreements that made up the negotiation agenda.

Only 5 of the 28 commitments specific to women concered problems related to women’s strategic needs (publicizing and compliance with the Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, elimination of discriminatory legislation, legal classification of sexual harassment and recognition of equality in the home and the workplace). The rest focused on practical needs: correcting unequal access to social rights (education, health and housing), productive resources (work and land) and spaces for organizing and participating. The Accords were an important starting point, but they didn’t get as far as explicitly questioning patriarchy as a sexually-based power system that is the pillar of gender oppression.

New laws, new arenas

Despite the above, the content of the accords has supported women’s rapid advancement. Women agree that the most important change in their lives brought by the Accord was the possibility to learn about and exercise their right to organize and to identify with and participate in society outside of their homes. We discovered this in an opinion survey carried out by the Women’s Sector with 47 women in 10 departments.

During the 1996-99 period, women in a variety of roles joined forces with congressional representatives to pass legal reforms: the Law to Prevent, Sanction and Eradicate Domestic Violence, the modification and/or suppression of discriminatory sections of the Civil Code (conjugal representation was exclusive to the male) and the Penal Code (adultery existed as a crime only for women). They also spoke out in the National Women’s Forum, where recommendations were formulated and proposals negotiated.

In the 2000-2003 period, the National Coordinator for the Prevention of Domestic Violence and Violence Against Women (CONAPREVI) was created thanks to the work of these women’s groups and three representatives from the women’s movement were brought on board. They also influenced the content of the Law on Development Councils, the Municipal Code and the Social Development Law, as well as playing an important part in the consensual formulation of the National Women’s Development and Promotion Policy (PNPDM) and the 2001-2006 Equal Opportunity Plan.

Women’s organizations made a qualitative leap in the content of the PNDPM by including in the public agenda issues not previously addressed in the accords, such as the fight against violence toward women and proposals to transform the focus of education and public health. During the current government, women have directed their most important efforts to a comprehensive campaign against violence toward women, approval of the Family Planning Law and monitoring the progress in implementing the PNPDM.

And indigenous women?

Indigenous women deserve special mention. Despite major disadvantages due to racism, they have been building their own ways to participate and propose specific demands within the general agenda for women.

In the first years, indigenous women’s contributions transformed the ethnocentric vision of participation, proposing regional and linguistic criteria to create a more equitable and inclusive structure for the National Women’s Forum. They drafted a bill for the creation of an Office of Ombudsman for Indigenous Women, which had a much broader, more comprehensive vision than the one contained in an earlier agreement for that institution. Once it was set up, they developed consultation procedures for defining the specific rights of indigenous women. Examples of this reflection process include “the right to modify customs and traditions that affect their dignity,” “the right not to have a husband imposed on them,” and “the right to the application of the principle of duality.”

Omissions, unfulfilled tasks
and lukewarm politics

The state initially did its part by calling for the creation of the National Women’s Forum, certain legal reforms and the promotion of women’s participation in arenas for consultation and dialogue. Since then, it has promoted other partial activities, not all of which have met women’s expectations. Among these activities is the creation of an Ombudsman’s Office for Women within the Human Rights Solicitor General’s Office, an Ombudsman’s Office for Indigenous Women and a Commission for the Prevention of Violence. The creation of a Presidential Women’s Secretariat is a lukewarm response to the demand of the women’s movement for an autonomous lead entity.

In other cases, the state has omitted or failed to fulfill some commitments, including classifying the crime of sexual harassment (including harsher sentencing if committed against indigenous women), legislating domestic workers’ rights, and reviewing and eliminating discriminatory content in different legal corpuses. More resources, efforts and awareness campaigns are evidently needed to address the serious issue of violence against women, as shown by the increase in murders of women.

Women’s political participation and access to public power are still weak. Reforms to the Electoral and Political Party Law don’t correspond to the strategic actions established in the PNDMI’s area of sociopolitical participation.

Sum-up: Still too many vacuums

Ten years after signing the Peace Accords, our overall evaluation is that there has been a failure to fulfill the socioeconomic commitments that could reduce social inequalities; progress in women’s speaking, negotiating and proposal-making skills; and a weak state commitment to the women’s agenda, by focusing mainly on certain participatory processes and the creation of specific institutionality, which is only just getting underway.

The public agenda on women still contains vacuums in the cultural policies relating to both public and private communication arenas as well as to symbolic ones for questioning and transforming patterns that legitimize women’s oppression. Gender discrimination is still present, ingrained and often “naturalized” in Guatemalan society. This makes it necessary for men and women to realize that they recreate the patriarchal order and devise mechanisms for reviewing sexist patterns and eliminating them from the language, academia, media and the practices of diverse social organizations, which still tend to relegate the women’s agenda for the sake of a “common” agenda.

* * *

Demetrio Cojti, who holds a doctorate in social ommunication and is a former deputy minister of education, looks at the successes and failures, the progress and lack thereof, from the perspective of indigenous identity and rights.

Hasty, insufficient, inconsistent
and symbolic

The impact of the Accord on the identity and rights of indigenous peoples was new and important for the country. It implied the state’s recognition of responsibility in the discrimination and exclusion of indigenous peoples, and a commitment to solve this negative situation. Nonetheless, there is evidence that the things done to improve the situation of indigenous people are hasty, insufficient, exploratory, inconsistent, marginal and symbolic.

This particular Accord has four chapters: indigenous peoples’ identity; the fight against legal and factual discrimination; cultural rights; and civil, political, social and economic rights. Each chapter consists of a definition along with principles, acknowledgements, commitments and requests. The majority of the commitments correspond to the state and a few are applicable to organized civil society.

Well known by the
indigenous population

For the peace negotiators, the idea of such an Accord was something novel. Initially, they hadn’t thought to meet with the “indigenous sector” and learn about its needs and expectations as they had already done with other social groups. The Accord was and is the result of indigenous people’s struggle to have their rights recognized by the URNG as well as the Government.

From the indigenous side, an equally novel aspect of the Accord’s content was the fight against racial discrimination, since this wasn’t sufficiently thought through in the requests presented through the Civil Society Assembly (ASC) and the Council of Mayan Organizations of Guatemala (COPMAGUA). For Guatemalan society, the signing and endurance of the Indigenous Accord was positive. It reoriented indigenous issues and gave them a new frame, significantly helping to place them on the national agenda.

This Accord was widely distributed, as were the Peace Accords in general, and thus became better known by the indigenous population than the Constitution. But because indigenous people don’t always have the institutional mechanisms to find solutions to the injustices they suffer, learning about their rights is often as far as it goes.

The accord was a
good starting point

Not all the indigenous requests were accepted and recorded by the peace negotiators. Thus, the Accord didn’t include some political demands , such as self-determination and territorial and political autonomy. Nor did it include demands for agrarian reform or recognize the country’s internal colonialism.

For that reason, indigenous organizations valued the Accord as a “good starting point,” but ultimately unsatisfactory because it didn’t cover all their interests. They welcomed its signing, however, because in theory it meant an end to the state’s assimilationist racism; what is known in Latin America as the indigenista ideology.

Nascent results

COPMAGUA, an entity recognized as the state’s interlocutor, was formed following the signing of the “firm and lasting” peace in December 1996. This official recognition helped it coordinate the majority of existing indigenous organizations involved in carrying out the peace accords.

After that the five integrated and specialized commissions envisioned in the Accord were created, generally made up of indigenous and governmental counterparts. Not all these commissions bore fruit at the same time, but they devised modalities for implementing the peace commitments and clarified doubts and flaws in the design of the accord. For all that, the findings of these commissions have either not been implemented or are just getting started.

Constitutional reform
wasn’t possible

In May 1999 a referendum was held on reforming some Constitutional articles, with a negative result. The consultation sought to ratify several reforms already approved by the Congress in October 1998, among them recognition of the Guatemalan nation as a multiethnic, multicultural and multilingual country; recognition of the right of the Mayan, Garifuna and Xinca peoples to their identity; recognition of the traditional authorities for imparting justice; and the officializing of the indigenous languages. The negative result of that referendum halted the constitutional reforms and consequently these governmental commitments couldn’t be put into practice.

The Mayans call them
“indigenous windows”

Meanwhile, state organizations have gone forward alone in implementing positive recognition policies by passing pro-indigenous legislation, creating specific agencies, increasing symbolic indigenous participation and timidly implementing affirmative action programs.

Not all this progress is duly institutionalized. What exists now is an incipient indigenous institutionality within the state that reveals the interest of certain public authorities in resolving specific problems concerning indigenous people. For their determination, dimensions and performance, the Mayans call these authorities “indigenous windows.”

In practice, this institutionality hasn’t produced results, because it has been discriminated against by the state itself, was conceived in the framework of a unitary, centralist state and served as a strategy for containing indigenous demands. It remains to be seen what will be produced by the recently created peace institutionality, including the issuing of the Framework Agreement for the Peace Accords and the creation of the National Council for the Peace Accords, in which “a” representative of all the indigenous organizations and peoples participates.

Progress, rollbacks, and lags

The evaluation of the Accord by the Mayan Center for Documentation and Research during the International Decade of Indigenous Peoples (1994-2004) revealed legislative advances in addressing culture and racism; increased education and health coverage; more public indigenous agencies; and greater access by indigenous candidates to municipal power and, to a lesser degree, high government posts. It considered this to be the beginning of acceptance of their own forms of indigenous organization and of Mayan spirituality, as well as recognition of the existence of levels of racism against indigenous peoples.

The evaluation also revealed backpedaling in some programs and state indigenous institutions, budget cuts and program dismantling, due to partisan political revenge. It verified widening and worsening poverty levels among indigenous people and increased levels of racism against them. It noted the following ongoing government errors or defects regarding indigenous people: public services and policies that ignore linguistic and cultural aspects, continuing policies of cultural and linguistic homogenization and assimilation and a total absence of state policies in other aspects.

A more recent evaluation done by the Rigoberta Menchú Foundation, this one covering ten years of the peace accords, indicates that while the formal part of the indigenous Accord has been fulfilled, there are still large gaps in the aspects that would modify the structure of inequality and discrimination characterizing Guatemalan society.

Sum-up: It hasn’t been a priority

The Accord has several limitations. The existing legislation permits no changes that go beyond what is recognized in a given law and doesn’t question the single unitary state, whose legislation is limited on the issue of issues. There are no norms obliging the ministries, secretariats or presidential commissions to implement the Accord. And there are no specific budget funds, so the bulk must come from sources of external cooperation.

The major limitation of this and all the other Peace Accords is that they haven’t been a political priority of the governments, and thus they haven’t been institutionalized. For that reason, their fulfillment has been weak and irregular, left to the good will and discretion of each public official and agency.

These texts appeared in the December 2006 issue of FLACSO’s magazine DIÁLOGO.

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