The reality of indigenous youths in Guatemala
BY GERARDO GUARQUEZ
TRANSLATED BY THOMAS LANG
Studies on Guatemala’s youth are a relatively recent phenomenon, beginning after the democratization of the State in the mid ‘80s. With the Peace Accords in the late ‘90s, conditions arose favoring the epistemological study of young people. In the beginning, “youth” was seen as a homogenous, unidimensional group: urban youth activists. These studies only looked at class asymmetry, obscuring ethnic and cultural diversity.
Because of this, through dialogue and debate amongst young people arose a new term: youths—a term more in line with the diversity of young people. Beginning in 2010, studies of youth became more heterogeneous in nature, allowing for a closer look at the true reality of young people across Departments and rural areas. From then on, studies of indigenous youths have grown.
In recent years, indigenous youths have been recognized as the majority, but also more vulnerable in the face of an economic and political system that harms society and leads to mistrust of institutions. Lack of opportunity has even led to migration. This is why as individual and collective rights are recognized, democracy advances and living conditions improve.
This analysis will explore two rights of Guatemala’s indigenous youths that I consider to be most violated: dignified work, which should be basic for economic and emotional stability; and political participation, which is essential for building a new country. If these rights are protected, the socio-political stability of the country will certainly improve, and with it phenomena like poverty and migration will be able to be fought and prevented.
Lacking dignified conditions
It’s essential to think of and undertake actions to improve the working conditions of indigenous youths. They are the largest economically active sector of the population, representing nearly 40% of the total population. Indigenous youths try to enter the labor market after completing their basic education, ideally with a professional degree they would find themselves in better conditions. However, few achieve higher studies.
Amongst the main obstacles are the fact that in rural and indigenous communities, there are not many options for diverse professional training, let alone university studies. As such, there is a lack of labor opportunities. A higher level of educational attainment is demanded of potential workers more and more each year despite the fact that the majority of the population lacks access to education. On top of this, employees demand previous work experience. In the face of these adversities, indigenous youths choose to migrate.
Indigenous youths face three difficult paths: 1) migration, 2) informal work, which means accepting a miserable wage and exploitation, and 3) delinquency, alcoholism, and addiction.
To avoid these social issues, one of the alternatives that ought to be promoted is entrepreneurship. It’s a healthier, more coherent and safer solution for youths seeking to survive.
In this situation, it’s important to promote the political participation of indigenous youths, given that the citizenry is key to the construction of a democracy for the present and future.
The participation of indigenous youths in politics isn’t just key for the attainment of high levels of development, but also for the strengthening of Human Rights. Action must be taken to ensure that they take an active role in the socio-political and socio-economic life of the country, lest they be ignorant of the functions of the State.
This is why the Council of Indigenous Youths promotes projects to improve economic and labor conditions, while also supporting participation in politics fundamentally based on cultural and indigenous identity. The Council of Indigenous Youths knows that with organization and a collective view of what life should look like, a new country can be built.
Gerardo Alfonso Guarquez Vásquez is a political scientist and the Executive Director of the Council of Indigenous Youths of Guatemala.