Guatemala: The Voices They Don’t Want to Hear; the Debts They Don’t Want to Pay

By Andrés Cabanas on November 23, 2020

Photo: Prensa Libre: Érick Ávila

2020 is not 2015. We knew this chronologically and now we know it politically and socially as well.

Between 2015 and 2020 a whole lifetime has passed that includes a gigantic pandemic that has re-set our relationships, several storms alternating with recurrent droughts, a savage and unjustifiable increase in hunger and malnutrition – in Guatemala a country with abundant resources – and five years of governments without the people and against the people.

The brutal strengthening of an international organized-crime center has occurred or is occurring, in a tight alliance with the organized business sector that is taking action to suppress the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, (CICIG), and to nullify the anti-corruption struggle. And the government?, it is conspicuous in its silence, in regards to a guarantee of rights, and also by its inaction in extreme situations – the pandemic, linked natural and social disasters, food shortage emergencies with malnutrition and loss of food crops.

In these years, the ever-increasing authoritarian and pro-military rearmament, so that the management of public administration, including public spaces, has become like running a military barracks, with states of emergency, curfews, inclusion of retired or active-duty military men in the management of state institutions, with the goal of achieving continuity of interests, and continuity of current power.

2020 is also no longer 2015 in terms of the demands, of the social activists, the emerging leadership, the new faces present, with characteristic ways of acting and of identity.

During 2015, large national mobilizations, (independent of the limitations regarding the momentum of a transformative agenda) involved the rise of new urban entities, the increasing awareness among sectors of the middle class (lost afterward) and the partial articulation of demands for fighting against corruption and for meaningful reform of government, with historical demands and demands for structural transformation, including re-organization of the State, and a Pluri-National Constituent Assembly.  The central demands were the fight against corruption and in favor of renewal of, and adding dignity to, the political processes and institutions.

Now, in 2020 which ended in March with the pandemic and re-started in November with a new phase of mobilizations, this is a preliminary list of the differences being put forward.

The demand for a fair budget is central and this implies the correct use of funds (without diversion or corruption) as well as an adequate amount devoted to making social needs a priority.

In this sense, malnutrition and the structural problem of hunger is one of the themes most in evidence – up to now – in the demonstrations and the public accusations, which appears to be an advance over the previous limited demands.

The generation of youth that is participating in, and, in many cases, organizing these mobilizations is not the same as in 2015. If this date represented a new generation taking over, which from my point of view made a dynamic contribution with new forms and visions, and a renovation of political action, in 2020 we can assume a generational renewal is taking place within the renewal with an important inclusion of youth in the political struggles for justice and for the transformation of the country.

We are seeing the emergence of youth groups in both urban and rural areas, especially the emergence and strengthening of groups of women and feminist groups, which contribute organization and rapid massive mobilizing ability, along with solid political thought that is also original.

The year 2020 began with simultaneous mobilizations in many plazas  – public spaces – throughout the country, as an accumulation of years of rightful demands and also frustrations.  In 2015, the mobilizations were primarily in the central plaza, with very slow incorporation into outlying areas.  The plaza – with its urban and class connotations as a privileged space of action – is being redefined.

On the plus side, the build-up to a new massive cycle of mobilizations, which will depend on how well the new and traditional activists will be able to come together, engage in dialogue, and generate actions in common, from their positions of diversity, with the ability to foresee the risks, formulate complex scenarios, and complement each others’ actions and strategies.

There is a vast experience and set of structures that help us to rethink this, more from the point of view of the communities and territories rather than from institutional spaces, and to continue building or living the communities and their methods of consensus and participation.  In discourse, we need to articulate plural subjects, both male and female, and to build a new agreement that can substitute for the constitutional “non- agreement” with its non-viability as a promoter of justice and rights.  It is time to go more deeply into new forms of organization and action, to advance toward a new life.

On the minus side of this historical moment, we are fatigued, tired to exhaustion, and this with an increase in tensions and extreme manifestations of indignation. Social sensitivity is very close to the surface.

The government has not kept faith with us, and the authorities have made politics and the budget into a source of loot, without shame or decency.  They owe us our rights, our money, and also our dignity.

This is the new beginning; we don’t yet know where we are headed.  Possibly only real commitments to change, firm steps toward new constructions of society and new ways of conceiving of politics, will be able to contain the widespread indignation.

Those in power can feel the thunder of the voices that they never wanted to hear and the demands that they have always refused to deal with.

Source: Resumen Latinoamericano, translation North America bureau