Monday, November 21, 2011

Politics of representation in the new government

The president-elect of Guatemala, Otto Pérez Molina, has been rolling out the members of his administration over the last several days. He has appointed some members of "opposing" political parties, such as Harold Caballeros, an Evangelical pastor who ran for president on the Viva (Visión con Valores -- Vision with Values) party ticket. According to an article in today's paper, only 4 of the 14 top posts went to women (just over 1/3) and only 2 went to indigenous people, although over 50 percent of the population is female and over 50 percent is indigenous. Indigeneity is somewhat harder to tabulate than gender and also more contested and problematic; the statistic cited in the article was that 42% of the population is indigenous. Why the undercount or the divergence? For one thing, the label is quite abstract and many people in rural communities may identify with a specific ethnic group (Mam, Qeq'chi, Ixil) rather than a catch-all term like "Maya" or "indigenous". Because "indigenous" is a lower-status category, people who might fit an indigenous rights activist's or anthropologist's definition of indigenous often try to "pass" or identify with a higher-status category. My Maya activist friends say that 60% or more of the population is Maya, but not all of those 60% would necessarily self-identify in that way.

But even if we take the article's estimate of 42%, the general is not doing a good job at creating an image of a pluralistic, multicultural state.  The four women who were selected (one of them Maya) were appointed to the following positions: Presidential Secretariat of Peace (responsible for guaranteeing compliance with the Peace Accords); head of the Ministry of the Environment; some post in the Ministry of Education (not specified); and some post in the newly-formed Ministry of Social Development.  The one Maya woman, Marta Estrada, was named to head the Secretariat of Peace.  So, these are mostly more traditionally "female" areas -- social development encompasses what we would call in the U.S. social welfare programs (it is being established to coordinate anti-poverty programs). The one indigenous male was named to head the Ministry of Culture. The remaining positions are all occupied by non-indigenous male professionals, including military personnel, politicians, businessmen and academics.

So, the much-heralded "change" that was promised by Pérez Molina when campaigning doesn't look all that promising. Not that I expected much different.

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