We had a visit this week from presidential candidate Rigoberta Menchú, who came to visit the annual assembly of Ixmukané and then later had a rally to present two other Maya K'iche' women who are running for congress. I will write about that later -- the week has been so busy with the assembly, the rally, and then a day long evaluation of Ixmukané's work on behalf of a Swiss NGO that has funded some projects that I've barely had time and energy to write a coherent sentence.
But I wanted to share some items from the local news.
TSE declines to proclaim Winaq candidates
I won't translate the entire article but it seems that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal ratified the meetings of Winaq, the indigenous political party that Menchú represents but declined to ratify the selection of candidates (Menchú and her running mate Anibal Garcia). Seems to be a confusing rule and we'll have to see where this goes. Needless to say the entire electoral process has been fraught with all kinds of irregularities and scandals; it seems half of the major parties have been cited for one thing or another, and they are spending a lot of energy launching investigations into each other's workings (or asking various governmental bodies to do so).
In other news. there have been two major actions by local communities against so-called "development" projects. In Saxaché, Peten, local communities have rejected plans to build a hydroelectric plant. People are apparently worried about being thrown off their land as happened in Chixoy, and about the impact on their subsistence agriculture.
Residents reject hydroelectric plant
And more actions against mining, this time in Jalapa. There have not yet been any major actions or community consultations in my part of Quiché yet -- it's a big department and two weeks ago when we were in Cunén recording radio spots about the elections with women there, in the municipal palace, there was apparently another meeting that had to do with mining operations, but I haven't heard about anything down this way.
Another setback to women's rights -- A judge has issued a ruling limiting the distribution of contraceptives -- in violation of some of the human rights and other declarations that are supposed to guarantee information and access. A truly regressive move in a country where half the rural indigenous women have their first child before the age of 20 and 70% have not completed primary school education. This was brought home to me yesterday in a meeting of the newly-elected executive board of Ixmukané, when the director talked about the embarrassment and pain of looking at the sign-in sheets from some of the meetings and training sessions held in rural areas, and seeing sheet after sheet that were marked only with thumbprints, not signatures.
Finally, as though we needed more evidence of the uneven development (to take a phrase from Trotsky) and outright neglect that have plagued Quiché for decades if not centuries, turning it into THE poorest department in the country (not "one of the poorest" but THE poorest region in a poor country), a section of retaining wall on the highway, RN-15, that leads to the departmental capital, Sta. Cruz del Quiché, collapsed yesterday, undermining the stability of the asphalt surface and threatening a possible landslide. This is, of course, a result of the rains, but also undoubtedly some inadequacies or shortcuts in the original construction of the highway. Perhaps inadequate funding, sloppy work, poor oversight, or some of the money designated for the road went to line politicians' and contractors' pockets. This is really the only access road from the southern and western parts of the country -- to get to Santa Cruz del Quiché from one of the two major cities, Xela or Guatemala City, you have to take CA-1 (the Interamerican or Panamerican highway, it goes by both names) to Los Encuentros ("the encounters" or "the meetings", an apt name for a pretty ugly crossroads) the starting point of RN-15, a road that gives new meaning to the concept of "hairpin turn" (the women from Petén who visited last week and their driver commented about this; one of them literally got sick from the ups and downs, twists and turns; I have gotten to rather like them after months of traversing part of this road pretty regularly). The collapse was just outside of Chichicastenango, on the stretch of RN-15 that connects Chichi and Sta. Cruz. Local officials are asking for some emergency funding, and we'll see what they do with it.
Nothing like a good highway collapse from time to time to remind you of just how much our part of the country is "the land that time (or rather, politicians) forgot". Obviously, the conditions of neglect, poverty, highly unequal land distribution, malnutrition and so forth plague much of rural Guatemala; I don't want to claim a truly privileged position for Quiché. We're just the first among equals.