A Transformational Project: The challenge to get people to focus their strength on one common goal

An interview with the Mayan activist Mash Mash about current protests and the fight for a Plurinational State. Written in collaboration with Anika Pinz and Martin Schäfer from Latein Amerika Nachrichten


Anika & Martin: This summer, after various corruption scandals, were large protests in Guatemala. What can you say about the situation?

Mash Mash: These protests began in response to the corrupt behavior of the State as it sought to benefit the powerful sectors who have managed the country’s economy and politics. These protests show the resistance and fighting spirit of the people and their rejection of this State that has historically excluded indigenous peoples, who have been subjected to plunder and subjugation since their lands were first invaded.

In recent years, corrupt structures have been dismantled in Guatemala, but then there were threats to dismantle an institution that hunts down corruption (the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity). The protests grew after the dismissal of Juan Francisco Sandoval, the prosecutor in charge of the Office.

A&M: Tell us about your organization, the Mayan Peoples’ Council (CPO), and the role that it played in the Plurinational strike on July 29.

MM: CPO arose more or less in the year 2005 out of the fight to defend our land and the development of community consultations. As of now, we have conducted around 80 consultations throughout the country to clam the rights of the people over their lands. Transnational corporations, be they mines, dams, or monoculture plantations, are invading the people’s land without consent. We consider ourselves a political movement that articulates the rights of the Mayan people and promotes the construction of a new Guatemalan State.

As such, we strive for deeper political transformation, but have also called upon the People to join in the fight. The events of July 29 are emblematic of this call. Protests show the strength of the resistance and the fight of the people, but also their rejection of this racist State.

A&M: What is the current situation of Mayan people in Guatemala?

MM: Indigenous people have never participated in the State. We did not choose our present situation nor the future that awaits us. There are some indigenous people in Congress, but they represent the interests of political parties, which are run by the oligarchy. When we speak of racism, we have four large grievances. At the time of the invasion, people were dispossessed of their lands. Later in the liberal age, when the government redistributed our communal land to landowners and businessmen, our people were enslaved and forced to work on coffee farms and cotton plantations. The events of the Civil War are the third grievance, because indigenous people were denounced as communists and guerrillas. We were displaced and eliminated. The fourth is the current imposition of the extractivist economic model on our lands. Mines, oil wells, and dams are built, and then the energy produced is sold to us at a very high price. This is a violation of the collective rights of the people, including the right to self-determination and to be consulted about our wishes, among others, but there are also further implications: a lack of health, education, housing, roads, etc. This shows that we live in a country where indigenous people are not the protagonists of their own lives.

A&M: The CPO proposes the creation of a Plurinational State. What does this mean for Guatemala?

MM: Since the creation of the CPO we have proposed the construction of a new inclusive State because there are four cultural groups living together in Guatemala: the Maya, Xinca, Garífuna, and Mestizo. We are based on the personal experiences of our people. There are people like the K’iche’ and Kaqchikel Mayans who are jointly governing their lands, as small as they may be. This shows that a plurinational culture is indeed possible. Furthermore, we can see similar examples of success in Bolivia and Ecuador, and even Europe. We consider four pacts necessary for the transition to a plurinational State.

The first pact is political. In the new plurinational constitution, we want to include community democracy, which has been historically unknown. Now decisions are made by government structures and are forced upon communities. We want to invert this situation because our communities make decisions through communal assemblies and the consensus that arises therein. We want to improve the electoral process so that the four groups are proportionally represented. We propose two ways of electing representatives: through the official political system and also through the dynamic of our communal assemblies.

The second pact is economic. The concept of buenvivir, living in harmony with nature and the universe, must be at the center of the economy. Our current economy is regulated by the market. We propose that it be regulated and directed by the community. We also want natural and social public goods, like energy, forests, and rivers, to be public domain for the benefit of the majority, not privatized and controlled by transnational corporations.

The third pact is culture. We need to support a plurinational culture. Education is designed to maintain the system. At the center of our thinking is the decolonization of thought and the support of a culture of living together harmoniously and productively, where both men and women participate in politics. The fourth pact is justice. Justice has to equally recognize the systems of each culture. We propose judicial pluralism. The people’s justice is restorative. It does not chase after, criminalize, kill, or punish. Above all, it is not a system that solely resolves conflicts. It is also a system of social justice where people have education, health, housing, and all that the concept of buenvivir implies.

These four elements are what sustain a plurinational State. To achieve them, we do not want to patch up the holes in our current exclusionary constitution, but rather establish a plurinational assembly of constituents. To achieve this, we need support in Congress.

A&M: Guatemala has a large indigenous population, but it seems to not be as well coordinated as that of Bolivia or Ecuador. What is missing?

MM: Unfortunately, we have faced ideological suppression for many years. The government, through its laws, institutions, and actors like the army, police, media, and political parties, has imposed a state of siege in an attempt to reduce the demands of the people. Society has been fragmented.

There is no unity, no solid coordination nor collaboration between organizations and community authorities, student movements, women, youth, or peasants. All of these forces are fragmented and divided amongst the parties. They only coordinate themselves under conditions like those we have seen recently, when they can join together against corruption. Furthermore, State operatives have infiltrated our communities. They, by offering small gifts, get leaders to stay silent. Historically, their strategy has been to criminalize, prosecute, and silence our leaders through laws. There is a law that prohibits free association of communities and social organizations. Structures like the Foundation against Terrorism declare us terrorists and criminals when we demand our rights or head to the streets in protest.

The big challenge now is that progressive forces need to come together and collaborate on a single transformational project. Together we have great potential as indigenous people, but we are not coordinated. I call upon all of the peoples’ movements and social movements in Guatemala to join together so that we can build our path forward. Above all, we need to unite and set our priorities for the political future of the country, working together with the collaboration of all the various communities. 


Mash Mash (which means monkey in the Mam language) belongs to the Mam Mayan community and is an activist with the Mayan Peoples’ Council (CPO). The CPO maintains a direct presence in 7 Departments in the western part of the country, and also has alliances with forces in others, including CODECA, a peasant development committee, and academics, the public sector, and progressive unions.