The right to dream of democracy
POR FREDY PASTOR
TRANSLATED BY EMMA PORTER
For Guatemalan society, a society that is extremely stratified, hierarchical, and accustomed to silence, talking about politics is uncomfortable. People say things like “It’s better not to talk about that,” “all politicians are the same,” or “things have always been this way, and nothing will ever change.”
For decades, Guatemalans have been dissatisfied with the political system we have, however we have not been able (until some time ago) to collectively materialize this discontent, at least from the cities and urban sectors. Using a term from psychology, we could say that Guatemalans suffer from “learned helplessness,” the psychological condition in which we believe that we have no control over the situation we face, generally due to previous experiences of failure. In light of this belief, we think that anything we could do will be in vain and will not change anything.
That’s why the National Strike that occurred following the intervention of the Public Ministry in the 2023 authorities’ election process by seizing the original records where “the purity of the elections rests,” according to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal’s own magistrates, has significant social significance that goes beyond demanding the resignation of the Attorney General Consuelo Porras and Rafael Curruchiche, the head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI) of the Public Ministry. There are certain phenomena worth analyzing, as they imply the transformation of some fundamental social dynamics for democracy.
First, there is the general recognition that Guatemalan society is giving to indigenous organizations, especially the 48 Cantons of Totonicapán as a symbol of struggle and organization. Despite having resisted state abuses for centuries (literally centuries), it is only at this juncture that the country has realized the strong commitment of indigenous leaders. Even when the government sent military forces to intimidate indigenous communities, their strong organization led to a peaceful resolution, resulting in the withdrawal of the military convoy. The organization of vulnerable urban neighborhoods like Colonia Bethania in Guatemala City is also noteworthy, as they managed to remove riot police from their territory without violent incidents.
Another important dimension of the National Strike was the reclaiming of public spaces. Suddenly, people “appeared” in the streets. Their attendance at the protests and blockades that took place in different squares and roads, initially as an act of mere presence, gradually transformed into a reconnection of the social fabric. In many places, there were awareness-raising music concerts, poetry readings, recreational activities, and even dances and games. After years of distancing themselves from one another, the population reappeared in the public sphere in a climate of tranquility and even joy. Of course, it must be acknowledged that not all places had this atmosphere of fraternity: in many places (especially the southern coast and the eastern part of the country), there were armed incidents and tension at times, thus revealing the levels of everyday violence in these areas.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, young people, adolescents, and children are growing up with a different idea of the possibility of exercising their citizenship. A curious example of this happened in Zone 5 of Mixco, where, one night, five children began “playing at protest” in front of their neighborhood entrance. Five days later, they had already extended their path, and more neighbors joined them. This reminds us that democracy is an ongoing exercise that requires time to permeate the collective imagination, as well as constant organization, art, and the involvement of new generations to become a reality.
Fredy Pastor. Consultant in Human Rights, Public Policies, and Popular Education. Student of Legal and Social Sciences.