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Quetzaltenango: 500 years of history, challengess, and hope



The history of the city dates back to pre-Columbian times. From that time on, it has been an important commercial and cultural center for the region. Its first inhabitants were the Mam, who would call it Kulaja; The Quichés conquered it and named it Xelajuj No’j. Finally, on May 15, 1524, it would receive the name Quetzaltenango, after the bloody Spanish conquest.

From its humble origins as a Mayan center to its transformation into a modern and prosperous city, Quetzaltenango has witnessed important events and transformations throughout the centuries.
The city celebrates 500 years since its founding and, although there are many diverse chapters of history that make the members of our society proud of our origins, few are as significant for Quetzaltecan identity as those in which we have fought to be a sovereign and independent territory.

The search for sovereignty has left us important lessons that, it seems, with the passage of time we have forgotten. Pioneers of separatism such as Cleto Montiel, Cirilo Flores, and even the leaders of the State of Los Altos sought to ensure that Quetzaltenango was represented with dignity by the local and central governments and worked towards developing all the economic, social, and cultural potential of the region.

The political, social, and economic histories of Quetzaltenango are intrinsically interconnected, forming a complex fabric of identity and development.

Although Quetzaltecan society is diverse, dynamic, and resilient, with a rich mix of cultures, traditions, and values that make it unique, today, as we celebrate 500 years of founding, we face significant challenges, such as socioeconomic inequality, lack of opportunities, lack of urban infrastructure, and lack of political representation.
As in Guatemala, politics in Quetzaltenango is also marked by corruption, lack of transparency, and the influence of particular interests in decision-making. This has generated mistrust and discontent among the population, who often feel marginalized and underrepresented by their political leaders.

From the first attempts at separatism during the colonial era to the most recent political movements, such as the creation of the Sixth State of Los Altos in 1838, the city has been a bastion of resistance and a symbol of the fight for justice, equality, and freedom.

When commemorating the founding of Quetzaltenango and remembering its history, we must, as organized sectors, as citizens in the free exercise of our rights and duties, ask ourselves: what history are we writing? It seems that our society has stood idly by in the face of the mediocre work of the politicians who “represent and direct” Quetzaltenango at different levels of government.

Therefore, we must reaffirm our commitment to continue being a beacon of hope for Guatemalan society, with unlimited potential to build a more prosperous and equitable future where dreams of dignified representation and the development of economic, social, and cultural potential are fulfilled.

Although Quetzaltenango faces significant challenges in various aspects, it also has great potential to overcome them and build a more prosperous and sustainable future; it can benefit greatly from an approach focused on citizen participation, transparency, and collaboration between different actors in society.

The key lies in the collaboration and commitment of all stakeholders, including local authorities, civil society, and the private sector, to work together to find effective and lasting solutions to address challenges and seize development opportunities. In the next 500 years, the city can move towards a more prosperous future for all its inhabitants if we remember the ideals that have led us to be so proud of this land.

Samuel Alvarez Morales. Political analyst, member of Visión Legislativa and founder of Voluntarios por Xela.