by Eugene Walker
We are here resisting the dictatorship that until now has shown itself to be implacable. But everything has its time. The fight has to continue.
–-Salvador Quiacain, representative of the Tz’utujil people of San Pedro la Laguna, Sololá
Early in the morning of Jan.15, some six months after Guatemala’s August presidential elections, Bernardo Arévalo was inaugurated President. In the long, difficult months between his overwhelming electoral win and the January inauguration, it was by no means assured that he would be able to take office. A Pact of the Corrupt (Pacto de Corruptos)—prosecutors, judges, and above all the Attorney General of the country, María Consuelo Porras—worked every which way to deny Arévalo and his party, Movimiento Semilla, a chance to take office and govern.
What finally allowed Arévalo to assume the presidency was a massive Indigenous outpouring.
On Oct. 2, 2023, Indigenous authorities known as the 48 Cantones of Totonicapán declared an indefinite national strike against the Pacto de Corruptos. Indigenous groups blocked a major commercial highway crossing their territory. The Network in Solidarity with the People of Guatemala (NISGUA) reported: “As the country exploded in protest, thousands of residents took to the streets and set up blockades in their own neighborhoods and along local highways. At its height, the decentralized #ParoNacionalIndefinido (#IndefiniteNationalStrike) reached more than one hundred blockades throughout the country.”
On Oct. 20, thousands throughout the country took to the streets to march in commemoration of the Day of the 1944 Revolution. While in this latest confrontation the U.S. supported the transition to Arévalo’s presidency, we should not forget the counterrevolutionary 1954 coup the U.S. organized against Guatemala’s attempt at democracy. (See “The U.S. and Guatemala,” by Raya Dunayevskaya, July 1954.)
Even in Guatemala City, the country’s ladino population and conservative elites participated in the protests. That participation reveals the power of the country’s Indigenous movements. Guatemala is more than 40% Indigenous. It also showed that there could be a rural-urban unity against the Pact of the Corrupt.
WHERE TO NOW?
Arévalo is now in office, but many questions remain. His government is far from being revolutionary. At best, it is left of center. Despite immediately giving credit to the Indigenous movement and the youth for making it possible for him to take power, his first cabinet appointments were not encouraging and included only one Indigenous member!
The Indigenous communities immediately spoke out: “We regret that the government-elect has not seized the historic opportunity to form an inclusive cabinet,” the 48 Cantones of Totonicapán said in a statement. They were highlighting the “vital” need for “participation” of the Maya, Garífuna, and Xinka peoples.
It seems doubtful that bourgeois democracy, with its reduction of democracy to “elections,” can resolve the profound problems the Indigenous masses of Guatemala have faced for decades, including racism, poverty, and sexism—indeed centuries of discrimination and subjugation.
Rather, the sources for a fundamental transformation of Guatemalan society lie within the self-organization of Indigenous communities. Historically, they have moved to take matters into their own hands.[*]
[*] See the News & Letters pamphlet Guatemalan Revolutionaries Speak, featuring several Indigenous Guatemalans, as well as the essay “The peasant dimension in Latin America: Its test of the relation of theory to organization.” You can download it for free from the link.