Civil Organization: the Basis for Participation


Article 147 of the Guatemalan Constitution limits citizenship to all Guatemalans over the age of 18 , and thus, treats it as a legal-political concept. In a wider sense, citizenship encompasses an ethical-sociopolitical concept: all inhabitants are citizens.

Although the term “citizen”—remembering the exclusionary fact that women were not considered such historically—comes from the “cradle of democracy” (Athens, Greece) and dates back to the time before Christ, the idea has existed in society throughout time and is linked to the concept of democracy, though it has also been defined relative to the context, culture and systems in which it is expressed. Despite the non-existence of a universal state, the role of agreements and international treaties in the regulation of the International System is recognized, and it is in this environment that the concept of freedom of association (being understood as the right of everyone to associate with others and organize themselves in pursuit of their common interest) is established as a universal right, as expressed in Article 20 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Human history has been tied to constant fights and conflicts, rivalries between groups, regions, states and sectors that have individuals as the unit of primary interest, and the individual, as a social actor, responds to structures created to respond to big power interests, among other things. If we take a look backwards, we realize that, in a natural way, humanity has tended to group itself and organize itself for its own survival. Truthfully, we can also see that we have experienced long periods of abrupt violence, when war has been the solution to everything, and thus, it’s worth asking ourselves, what has the solution been?

Economic, political, social and cultural power is fabulous when we understand that this “everything” is composed by each one of its parts, which strengthen it and enrichen it, because they respond to specific contexts, but they coexist and are interrelated to form processes that should be more and more interdependent (not dependent), at the local, national, and international levels, which generates an interconnected and balanced system. When we speak of a democratic system like Guatemala’s, which is based in representative and participatory democracy, we can ask ourselves, are these mechanisms apparent in Guatemala? (without limiting it, of course, to the super- fluous “action” of voting and without reducing the importance of and determination to this right/obligation or to
the existence of law).

“ D e m o c r a c y ” i n Guatemala came about from the signing of the peace agreements in 1996. These agreements responded to the need to break with the notion of war as a solution and brought about an end to 36 years of savage armed conflict, looking for other methods of social organization that—supposedly—should have been inclusive and endogenous, in which the concept of localness became relevant. Civil society organized itself to safeguar institutional reforms, and the government responded with the creation of the Legal Framework for the Decentralization of the State and Citizen Participation.

This is seen reflected in wheat we know as the Recommendations for Urban and Rural Development, which permit the population to organize itself in accordance with its level of impact: national, regional, departmental, municipal or communal. Despite the existence of these mechanisms, a centralized state prevails, which is exclusionary and harmful for the access to quality of life and comprehensive development. These and other social problems are those which predominate and harm the social fabric of a country so rich in resources, culture and humanity, like Guatemala.

It is because of this that responsible civil organization is essential for maintaining balance. There are other forms of civil organization and participation, important in crucial occasions that come about through cooperative organization, understood as a collective entity or as Sidney Tarrow says, “a synonym of social movements” which structured in the long term are what we know as “citizen collectives.” Thus, through the interaction between social actors in their structures, better coordination and transformation into a relationship of more sustainable forces can be achieved for the development of the country. It turns out that the local level is ideal for civil influence, always and whenever it is connected with the structure of everything.

Civil organization allows more effective participation, for the citizen is an individual that forms a part of society—the collective—and though the individual may have their own private interests—something that is inherently human—their ability to analyze, feel, see and consequently their agency as a social actor is not just reduced to reaching personal wellbeing, but rather obtaining the same through the pursuit of the common good.