Racism responds when Guatemala’s downtrodden block roads

Blockade in Nahualá, Sololá, Guatemala. May 11, 2016. Photo by Ollantay Itzamná.

Commentary by Ollantay Itzamná

Nearly 20 blockades on Guatemala’s principal highways were in place by dawn this past Wednesday, May 11th. They were occupied by the “regrettable” presence of 15,000 indigenous Maya and rural workers of the National Committee of Campesino Organizations (CNOC).

These downtrodden traveled from their communities with tamales and tortillas, some since the middle of the night, to block roads for eight hours. They arrived, faces bronzed and weathered, below the hostile glares of truckers.

Sitting on the asphalt of the highways in stoic contemplation, they demanded the liberation of their incarcerated defenders and the rivers seized by rich planters, punishment for corrupt politicians, business owners, and soldiers, the end of subsidies and tax breaks for big corporations, the re-nationalization of privatized goods and services, and the return and redistribution of land to the rural majority.

Tapa de camino en El Naranjo, Huehuetenango, en la frontera con México. Foto por Ollantay Itzamná.

Blockade near El Naranjo, Huehuetenango, at the border with Mexico. Foto por Ollantay Itzamná.

Their placards and banners repudiated Energuate, the controversial, monopolistic electricity distributor that serves 60% of Guatemala, and the Israeli corporation IC Power that acquired Energuate from British private equity firm Actis Capital in December, 2015. They rejected corrupt politicians, business owners, and soldiers. They called for a new popular process to reform Guatemala’s constitution and create a new Guatemalan State with the full participation of Guatemala’s indigenous nations.

In this collective action, there was no sign of any particular NGO or foreign aid. There were no tents, no bottled water, no food rations to distribute. Nor were there many smartphones for opportunistic ethnic-looking selfies.

The actions were planned and carried out by the nobodies themselves, with support from their communities. They showed, again, their capacity to coordinate collective action at the national level to make common demands without any egotistical leader or strongman monopolizing TV time.

The arrogance of the bosses (today publicly stained with the dung of corruption), accustomed to looting and abusing indigenous and rural people like animals, could not wait; they let out a desperate, panicked cry: the national strike will cause them over Q50 million ($6.5 million) in losses! They successfully filed with the Constitutional Court an appeal for the “free movement” of their trucks and serfs. But that appeal meant nothing in the face of silence from the CICIG-Embassy that refused to enforce it.

They dispossess them, and they blame them for the nation’s backwardness

State racism inevitably blossomed in the words of Vice-president Jafeth Cabrera, the former academic and head of the public San Carlos University, who, after having promised to resolve the demands of the national strike in future “dialogues” with the CNOC commission, stated to the press, “These blockades make Guatemala regress.”

Historically, dim minds have attributed their failure to implement national progress to the presence of indigenous peoples. They have tried and tried to explain away their intellectual and moral failures by attributing them to convenient Others, indigenous Others. These poor in mind live as hostages to old stereotypes, loyal still to lost modernities.

The racism that eats at them makes it impossible for them to see in indigenous social struggles the participants’ human dignity, which they themselves have raffled off.

Tapa de camino en El Naranjo, Huehuetenango. Foto por OIllantay Itzamná.

Blockade in El Naranjo, Huehuetenango. Photo by OIllantay Itzamná.

Indigenous peoples have contributed their land, their labor, their lives, so that the Guatemalan nation could straighten itself out. But the immorality and mental incapacity of the ladino and European elite have meant that this country has never been a state of laws or even a nation.

Today’s state is a putrid body that spews pus wherever you press your finger. A putrid field where worms writhe together to extract the best of this decomposing body.

The simplest thing would be for the failed actors who monopolize the country’s wealth and power to recognize their responsibility for the nation’s backwardness and the government’s failure, and to heed the wise voices that propose structural transformations to relaunch the vessel called Guatemala.

The occupation of the highways does harm the country’s household and business economies. But this kind of collective action an act of last resort; it is one of few options left for the peaceful resistance that dispossessed and subjugated peoples wage to safeguard the little life and dignity left for them in their country.

These men and women survive economically, culturally, politically, and socially looted and blocked every day, year after year, generation after generation. They are trying to liberate themselves and all people in Guatemala from the murderous thanatocracy that destroys life. This is why for all citizens it’s an ethical imperative to accompany this and other collective actions of the dispossessed and downtrodden of Guatemala.