Democracy Is Dissent: Political Confrontations and Indigenous Mobilization in Sololá

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  This ethnographic portrait of rural democracy in postwar Guatemala stems from the first complete study of Sololá, in which I offer a critical interpretation of Pan-Mayan activism through a study of a conflict between two predominantly indigenous
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  1 Democracy Is Dissent Political Confrontations and Indigenous Mobilization in Sololá Timothy J. Smith  This ethnographic portrait of rural democracy in postwar Guatemala stems from the first complete study of Sololá, in which I offer a critical interpreta-tion of Pan-Mayan activism through a study of a conflict between two pre-dominantly indigenous political groups. The history of a local “anti-party” of Mayan activists, who controlled both the official municipal government and the indigenous (Mayan) municipal government between 1996 and 2000, is detailed. After enjoying a successful campaign to reform local and regional institutions which had discriminated against indigenous populations, their authority was challenged by the local wing of the Guatemalan National Revo-lutionary Unity’s (URNG) political party (a political offshoot of the umbrella guerilla organization that signed the 1996 Peace Accords), which took control of both municipal governments after a bitter, contested election in 2001. The dispute included death threats, an outpouring of media, police response, mass protest, court indictments, legal grievances, and destruction of public build-ings. The two-year conflict between local URNG representatives and Pan-Mayanists started in 1999 amidst the national “failure” of the National Refer-endum on Indigenous Rights and the presidential election (see Warren 2003; Carey 2004). Similar to strife in many other rural Guatemalan municipalities, this con-flict is but one event on a longer thread of local and regional histories. Factional cleavages have intensified over the last four years between indigenous organi-zations, especially the local affiliate of the URNG political party and Sololá’s civic committee,   revealing discordant political agendas and ethnic strategies. By focusing on local processes and outcomes, I complicate urban-centric stereo-types of rural politics and illustrate the salience of multiple political identities and differing ideas on what democracy and “participation” mean for the in-digenous actors of Sololá. By examining the political conflict that took place in the indigenous stronghold of Sololá during the years 1999–2001, I pre sent   C  o  p  y  r  i  g  h  t  ©   2  0  0  9 .  U  n  i  v  e  r  s  i  t  y  A  l  a  b  a  m  a  P  r  e  s  s .  A  l  l  r  i  g  h  t  s  r  e  s  e  r  v  e  d .  M  a  y  n  o  t  b  e  r  e  p  r  o  d  u  c  e  d  i  n  a  n  y  f  o  r  m  w  i  t  h  o  u  t  p  e  r  m  i  s  s  i  o  n  f  r  o  m  t  h  e  p  u  b  l  i  s  h  e  r ,  e  x  c  e  p  t  f  a  i  r  u  s  e  s  p  e  r  m  i  t  t  e  d  u  n  d  e  r  U .  S .  o  r  a  p  p  l  i  c  a  b  l  e  c  o  p  y  r  i  g  h  t  l  a  w . EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) - printed on 10/9/2019 11:35 AM via APPALACHIAN STATEUNIVAN: 419990 ; Smith, Timothy J., Little, Walter E..; Mayas in Postwar Guatemala : Harvest of ViolenceRevisitedAccount: s5822692  Democracy Is Dissent / 17  the slippage between Mayan nationalism and the key issues that drive local politics—including the adoption and dismissal of Pan-Mayan agendas, the significance and continuation of Mayan participation in electoral politics, the multiple meanings of democracy, and factionalism in the municipality. While some critics emphasize conflicts in Mayan communities in order to undermine the Pan-Maya Movement, my purpose in this chapter is the exact opposite. Indigenous politics in postwar Guatemala are as complex and dy-namic as those of North America, Europe, or any other region of the world.  This is a story that disrupts binaries of culture versus class, the national ver-sus the local, Pan-Mayanism versus Mayan localism, universal modernist nar-ratives and development, and others. It calls for “an ethnography of decline” (Ferguson 1999:1). Rather than write off these events as disappointments in modernity and political shortcomings, we must look at local histories and processes in order to ask not only what happened, but also what comes from failure? What does it mean? Moreover, the continual introduction of modernizing technologies and talk of “democracy” and Western modernist ideologies in this rural township cre-ate situational contexts that shape narratives of social experience that pre- Fig 9. Calming down the masses at second election protest in Sololá, December 2001. Photo by Timothy J. Smith.   C  o  p  y  r  i  g  h  t  ©   2  0  0  9 .  U  n  i  v  e  r  s  i  t  y  A  l  a  b  a  m  a  P  r  e  s  s .  A  l  l  r  i  g  h  t  s  r  e  s  e  r  v  e  d .  M  a  y  n  o  t  b  e  r  e  p  r  o  d  u  c  e  d  i  n  a  n  y  f  o  r  m  w  i  t  h  o  u  t  p  e  r  m  i  s  s  i  o  n  f  r  o  m  t  h  e  p  u  b  l  i  s  h  e  r ,  e  x  c  e  p  t  f  a  i  r  u  s  e  s  p  e  r  m  i  t  t  e  d  u  n  d  e  r  U .  S .  o  r  a  p  p  l  i  c  a  b  l  e  c  o  p  y  r  i  g  h  t  l  a  w . EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) - printed on 10/9/2019 11:35 AM via APPALACHIAN STATEUNIVAN: 419990 ; Smith, Timothy J., Little, Walter E..; Mayas in Postwar Guatemala : Harvest of ViolenceRevisitedAccount: s5822692  18 / Smith cede agency, political participation, and the collective protests of civil society. Rather than remaining fixed upon the logic of ideas and transmission of sys-tems of knowledge, our studies should involve individuals and their navigation through political structures (Geertz 2000:218). I flesh out these navigations through the different agendas indigenous leaders pursue. Sololá provides an interesting ethnographic case study of electoral politics and democratic participation at the local level. It challenges perceptions that the defeat of the 1999 referendum was a failure of indigenous democratic par-ticipation or political aspirations. Sololá provides rich evidence for strong po-litical aspirations and collective organization that counter notions of Mayas feeling “defeated” after the referendum or being further marginalized in Gua-temala’s postwar transition to democracy. In fact, the defeat of the constitu-tional reforms did not diminish Mayan political interests and participation.  An analysis focused upon the local and national events around the referendum, the 1999 presidential election, and the 2001 indigenous municipal government elections brings an alternative interpretation of Mayan responses to light. Poli-tics are more complex than any particular moment of voting. The complexity is due, in part, to the idea that Mayan leaders and intellectuals in Guatemala address not only non-Mayan populations, but very different Mayan commu-nities. Studying intra-group competitions between Mayan political factions shows how indigenous competitions between Mayan groups occur as a result of shifts from ethnic conflict to those framed by class, gender, personal inter-ests, and party politics.  The “Jacket” in Sololá (1990–99):Renaissance, Community Activism, and Electoral Politics  The municipality of Sololá, with a population of 37,127 (89 percent indige-nous) (INE 1996), is a county-like unit with a municipal and market center that lies in the western highlands of Guatemala overlooking Lake Atitlán. It also serves as the administrative center of the department (state), which bears its name. The indigenous municipal government of Sololá (locally re-ferred to as the muni indígena  ) serves as the administrative meeting place for traditional leaders of the community, mayors, council members, mayor’s as-sistants, and executive commissions. A remnant of the Spanish colonial pe-riod in Guatemala (1524–1821), the indigenous municipal government has ex-isted in Sololá for nearly 450 years (Maxwell and Hill 2006; T. J. Smith 2004). It is a quasi-autonomous local organization that is not accorded official recog-nition by the national government. Timothy J. Smith (2004), Guisela Mayén de Castellanos (1986), Lina Barrios (1998a,b), and the Municipalidad Indígena de Sololá (1998) all provide detailed descriptions of the offices and history of   C  o  p  y  r  i  g  h  t  ©   2  0  0  9 .  U  n  i  v  e  r  s  i  t  y  A  l  a  b  a  m  a  P  r  e  s  s .  A  l  l  r  i  g  h  t  s  r  e  s  e  r  v  e  d .  M  a  y  n  o  t  b  e  r  e  p  r  o  d  u  c  e  d  i  n  a  n  y  f  o  r  m  w  i  t  h  o  u  t  p  e  r  m  i  s  s  i  o  n  f  r  o  m  t  h  e  p  u  b  l  i  s  h  e  r ,  e  x  c  e  p  t  f  a  i  r  u  s  e  s  p  e  r  m  i  t  t  e  d  u  n  d  e  r  U .  S .  o  r  a  p  p  l  i  c  a  b  l  e  c  o  p  y  r  i  g  h  t  l  a  w . EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) - printed on 10/9/2019 11:35 AM via APPALACHIAN STATEUNIVAN: 419990 ; Smith, Timothy J., Little, Walter E..; Mayas in Postwar Guatemala : Harvest of ViolenceRevisitedAccount: s5822692  Democracy Is Dissent / 19 the indigenous municipal government. Sololá is one of the few towns in Gua-temala to have an official municipal government and an indigenous municipal government. The latter is not officially recognized by the state. The indigenous municipal government underwent several significant changes in the 1970s that included an orthodox Catholic reform movement (Catho-lic Action, see Warren 1989), charismatic Catholic conversions, the devastating 1976 earthquake, and the 36-year counterinsurgency war (which peaked be-tween 1978 and 1982 under the military dictatorships of Romeo Lucas García and Efraín Ríos Montt). During the height of the violence, the indigenous municipal government was threatened by a military presence in the region, the National Police, the arrival of military intelligence agents, a rise in kidnappings and disappearances, and the installation of civil patrols and military reservists. Despite this legacy of violence, on July 14, 2003, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court ruled that Ríos Montt was legally eligible to run as the presidential can-didate of his party, the FRG (Guatemalan Republican Front), in the 2003 elec-tions irrespective of Article 186 of the 1985 Guatemalan Constitution, which forbids two-term presidencies. He finished in third place, ending his bid for the presidency and potentially stripping him of his immunity from prosecution for human rights abuses and crimes against humanity during his 1982 presi-dency. After nearly 20 years of decline, clandestine operation, and marginaliza-tion, local indigenous leaders planned a revival of the indigenous municipal government as the armed conflict in Guatemala drew to a close in the mid-1990s. By 1994, Mayan leaders in Sololá split the traditional civil-religious hi-erarchy of the Indigenous Mayoral Council into two separate organs: a civil council and a religious council. This was a strategic move by Mayan revitaliza-tionists. In different highland communities the splitting of municipal govern-ments occurred for other reasons. Activists cited this strategic move as the need to create a stronger secular government that could oversee and cement rela-tions among the emerging  popular   organizations (the grassroots Left) and Ma- yan NGOs during a rebuilding process that commenced before the conflict’s end in 1996. Some of these organizations included CUC (Campesino Unity Committee, which works for rural affairs), CONIC (National Indigenous and Campesino Coordinator, which focuses on land issues), CONAVIGUA (Na-tional Coordinating Committee of Guatemalan Widows, a grassroots orga-nization of widows of the war), Majawil Q’ij (New Dawn), Comité Indígena de Sololá (Sololá Indigenous Committee, responsible for revitalizing indige-nous political resurgence), and Usaqil Tinamït (People’s Dawn, a Mayan legal defense team). In the spring of 1995, a number of indigenous leaders in Sololá met and discussed the possibility of forming a comité cívico  (civic committee) to challenge the Christian Democrats’ control of the official municipal gov-   C  o  p  y  r  i  g  h  t  ©   2  0  0  9 .  U  n  i  v  e  r  s  i  t  y  A  l  a  b  a  m  a  P  r  e  s  s .  A  l  l  r  i  g  h  t  s  r  e  s  e  r  v  e  d .  M  a  y  n  o  t  b  e  r  e  p  r  o  d  u  c  e  d  i  n  a  n  y  f  o  r  m  w  i  t  h  o  u  t  p  e  r  m  i  s  s  i  o  n  f  r  o  m  t  h  e  p  u  b  l  i  s  h  e  r ,  e  x  c  e  p  t  f  a  i  r  u  s  e  s  p  e  r  m  i  t  t  e  d  u  n  d  e  r  U .  S .  o  r  a  p  p  l  i  c  a  b  l  e  c  o  p  y  r  i  g  h  t  l  a  w . EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) - printed on 10/9/2019 11:35 AM via APPALACHIAN STATEUNIVAN: 419990 ; Smith, Timothy J., Little, Walter E..; Mayas in Postwar Guatemala : Harvest of ViolenceRevisitedAccount: s5822692  20 / Smith ernment for the past nine years. Gaining considerable support in recent years, civic committees are community-based alternatives to traditional political par-ties. Billed as an “ anti-party,” the civic committee was created due to continu-ally corrupt national politics, the marginalization of an indigenous voice at all levels of government, and puppet-rulers who answered to concerns outsideof the municipality. The new civic committee was dubbed Sololatecos Unidos para Desarrollo (Solotecos United for Development, SUD) and would provide the majority indigenous population with an alternative to the national political parties. In the fall elections of 1995, local activists celebrated the much anticipated but surprising win of the SUD candidate for official mayor, Pedro Iboy, who had campaigned with a platform that he was free of the favoritism and cor-ruption of national political parties, and who promised to focus more upon the community and local concerns. A local schoolteacher with ties to the ALMG (Guatemalan Academy of Mayan Languages), his election marked the first time in nearly 450 years in which an indigenous candidate was elected mayor to the official municipal government of Sololá; he represented both the indige-nous and Ladino citizens of the municipality. It was an unprecedented win and the new SUD committee controlled both municipal governments in Sololá. It also reflected a larger national outcome, in which nearly one hundred indige-nous mayors were elected to official municipal governments throughout the country. After the signing of the Peace Accords in 1996, many indigenous ex- guerillas from Sololá joined the SUD in order to help indigenous Sololatecos,  who made up 89 percent of the municipality’s population. Between the years of 1996 and 2000, both municipal governments worked hand in hand toward improving town-center and rural infrastructure (including roads, electric lines, drinking water, bus stops, phone lines, and irrigation lines). Leaders from both governments were instrumental in introducing new fertilizers to farming co-operatives. In addition to building a strong working relation between both municipal governments and campaigning for an end to the armed conflict, Iboy’s high priorities included a focus on education, indigenous rights, and cul-tural events. He was instrumental in revitalizing local Mayan culture (through  workshops centering around the use of the Kaqchikel Mayan language, ethnic dress, Mayan cosmology, and the practices of Mayan spiritual leaders). Country People, City People: The Jacket versus the Maize In the beginning of 1999, ex-guerillas and URNG supporters left the ranks of the SUD anti-party in order to form the core of the Sololá affiliate of the URNG political party, which had received official recognition by the Guate-   C  o  p  y  r  i  g  h  t  ©   2  0  0  9 .  U  n  i  v  e  r  s  i  t  y  A  l  a  b  a  m  a  P  r  e  s  s .  A  l  l  r  i  g  h  t  s  r  e  s  e  r  v  e  d .  M  a  y  n  o  t  b  e  r  e  p  r  o  d  u  c  e  d  i  n  a  n  y  f  o  r  m  w  i  t  h  o  u  t  p  e  r  m  i  s  s  i  o  n  f  r  o  m  t  h  e  p  u  b  l  i  s  h  e  r ,  e  x  c  e  p  t  f  a  i  r  u  s  e  s  p  e  r  m  i  t  t  e  d  u  n  d  e  r  U .  S .  o  r  a  p  p  l  i  c  a  b  l  e  c  o  p  y  r  i  g  h  t  l  a  w . EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) - printed on 10/9/2019 11:35 AM via APPALACHIAN STATEUNIVAN: 419990 ; Smith, Timothy J., Little, Walter E..; Mayas in Postwar Guatemala : Harvest of ViolenceRevisitedAccount: s5822692
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