Thursday, November 10, 2011

Post-election notes

The country is still covered with billboards, posters, signs hanging at the entrances to town. Along the drive leading into Santa Cruz del Quiché from Chichicastenango, trees along both sides are plastered with posters for the UCN. One wonders about the parties that clearly had enough money to pay someone to put all of those signs up, but didn't get more than one percent of the vote.

The news has been full of stories about the transition. As far as I can see (and I haven't yet looked closely) the appointees of the new government are mostly men and a lot of them are former military. I don't think this comes as much of a surprise.

Political cynicism and opportunism is rampant. The former president of the congress, José Roberto Alejos, along with seven other congresspeople, announced that they were leaving the party under whose banner they were elected (or re-elected), the Union Nacional de Esperanza (UNE), the party of the current president, and that they were going to be independent congresspeople. Even on the music radio station (I've become habituated to listening to the one station that plays mostly U.S. top-40 music; we are all allowed our little idiosyncrasies and this is one of mine), the DJs this morning were criticizing this maneuver. The basic thrust of the DJs' commentary was, If they were going to do this, they should have done it before the election. But instead they were waiting to see which way the wind was blowing and then they abandoned their party.  

People seem to take it for granted that the congress does nothing, and that people are elected to congress for purposes other than serving the people, mostly for personal gain.  

Meanwhile, Christmas decorations are going up. There are tall artificial trees erected in the center of Santa Cruz del Quiché's Parque Central, in front of the Cathedral, and at the Obelisco, in Guatemala City. They are covered with tinsel and metallic ornaments, and the major brewery, Gallo, is sponsoring some events to start the Christmas season. On the other hand, religious groups are putting up billboards saying that Christmas without Jesus is a travesty (I will get the exact wording the next time I pass the billboard on Calzada Roosevelt).

And those on the left, and in the Maya movement (which overlap to a degree) are trying to get their bearings and figure out strategies for surviving and negotiating the next four years. I don't think any of us are very sanguine about what the new government means for, say, the legalization of community radio, or women's rights. Most seem to think that there will be more concessions to transnational mining companies, more ravaging of the environment, more selling off the country's resources, and not much on the positive side. Both parties in the second round said that they would maintain the social programs instituted by the current government -- the "bolsa solidaria" (solidarity bag: a monthly food basket), and Mi Familia Progresa (my family progresses), a cash handout. Both programs have been criticized for just giving handouts and not providing any sustainable means to bring families out of poverty -- which is what they were ostensibly established for. Handing a woman 300 quetzales in cash will help take care of basic needs but it will not make her literate or otherwise give her skills that will allow her to earn a living (I won't say "get a job" since for women in rural areas with many children, and where there are no jobs in the first place, that's not a very reasonable proposition). The bolsa solidaria has been criticized because it consists of giving people staple food items rather than food coupons, which they could use at local stores, thus helping stimulate local economies, and also exercise some independence in choosing what to purchase.

But beyond that are the larger issues about pushing for policies and laws that do more to protect indigenous communities and also that fully comply with the peace accords. It's been 15 years (or it will be 15 years next month; December is the anniversary) and so much is still up in the air.


  1. The Peace Accords stated directives that had to be complied with, in order to restore the social fabric, bring reparations and increase peace. Almost none of them have taken place and with this government, surely they won't. Dark years ahead, in general. Voters often seem to be their own worse enemy. I mean, this guy did not get where he is all by himself and his opponent Baldizon, who is also a terrible prospect, will most likely be the next president. He looks almost smug in anticipation. Like I said, dark years ahead.

  2. I agree, although the social movements don't seem to have gone away.. not that they were able to mobilize effectively in the election. There are some very small advances that have come with a lot of struggle -- for example, the alcaldía indígena in Chichi has won a legal ruling against Telgua for ownership of the building that Telgua until very recently occupied in Chichi. I'm not posing this as any kind of "silver lining" in what I agree is a very, very dark cloud. Only to say that I am trying not to see the situation as completely hopeless. But for all of us (and people who live here all the time, unlike me, especially), the next four years are going to be a steep uphill climb.