Nearly half of Guatemala’s people identify as indigenous. The Maya (who themselves speak 21 distinct languages) are the largest single group, though the country is also home to Afro-descendant peoples, especially along the Caribbean coast. These often-marginalized communities suffer from high rates of poverty, chronic malnutrition and persistent struggles over land and natural resources. The urban poor endure high murder rates as street gangs wage bloody battles for control of extortion and other criminal rackets. USIP programming will focus on promoting a culture of lawfulness while helping civic leaders — especially young activists — overcome the country’s historic inequities and reduce polarization.
Cuando el candidato anticorrupción Bernardo Arévalo ganó en agosto la presidencia de Guatemala, sus seguidores urbanos salieron a las calles en jubilo. Dos meses después, todavía siguen allí, pero no celebrando, sino protestando en contra de los ataques de la fiscal general guatemalteca hacia la elección de Arévalo. Este mes, las manifestaciones se propagaron a nivel nacional al convocar las autoridades indígenas a una huelga exigiendo la renuncia de la fiscal. El liderazgo de las protestas por parte de los pueblos indígenas marginados de Guatemala conlleva tanto peligro como promesa. La inestabilidad en las regiones rurales empobrecidas podría provocar olas adicionales de migrantes hacia la frontera de Estados Unidos.
When anti-corruption candidate Bernardo Arévalo won Guatemala’s presidency in August, his urban supporters took to the streets in celebration. Two months later, they are still there, not in celebration but in protest against challenges to Arévalo’s election led by the country’s attorney general. This month, the protests went national when Indigenous authorities called a strike demanding the attorney general’s resignation. The participation of Guatemala’s marginalized Indigenous peoples in nationwide protests holds both peril and promise. Instability in the impoverished rural hinterland could send additional waves of migrants toward the U.S. border. But the Indigenous population’s defense of elections could also prove a watershed moment for Guatemalan democracy.
President-elect Bernardo Arevalo’s electoral victory in August “has not sat well with the political establishment” in Guatemala, says USIP’s Mary Speck, and their attempts to undermine the transition have been met by popular protests led by Indigenous leaders advocating “on behalf of democracy.”