This year, Guatemala commemorates 200 years of independence, but for our Indigenous peoples this also marks two centuries of exclusion from real participation in the political system. Rather than a celebration, our bicentennial is an opportunity to think about a different Guatemala: a plurinational state with Indigenous representation.
Guatemala is a small but diverse country, with 25 spoken languages each with its own distinct culture. We are Mayas, Ladinos, Xincas, and Garifunas. The majority of our population is Indigenous, but this is not reflected in our government. When we speak of a plurinational state, it is to say that proposals are coming from our native peoples, it is to speak of a country whose laws and government represent our diverse and multicultural population. This has not been the case.
In 1821 when our independence was signed, nothing changed in the structure of the country and Indigenous peoples continued to be subjected to forced labor. They have sold us the idea that we are the third world, underdeveloped, while other countries take advantage of our natural resources. In the 1950s, when our president enacted a reform for the recovery of land for our native population, he was overthrown by the military with the support of the CIA, so that large corporations could continue to exploit our land. This coup started a 36-year internal war where more than 200,000 people were killed or disappeared, the vast majority Indigenous. In 1996, the peace accords were signed, with the promise of Indigenous rights that never came to pass. Now, we Indigenous peoples are waking up.
I got involved within my community to be part of the change. I work with Mercado Global, an NGO that empowers Indigenous women to be leaders by managing their own weaving or sewing cooperatives. We teach workshops including leadership, financial independence, entrepreneurship, and reproductive health. As a trainer, I manage 14 cooperatives in three departments of Guatemala, and I have seen great changes in these rural communities. These women are opening their minds, and when they are empowered, they step up, make changes, and have a voice in their community.
I saw this change in María, one of our partner artisans from Totonicapán. When she started with Mercado Global, María was very shy and did not leave her comfort zone. As she participated in our program, she became engaged and rose to the leadership position of Weaving Trainer. With this confidence, she became more involved in the development of her community. She began attending meetings with her COCODE, the local Indigenous government in her community. Every year the leadership changes, and the next year, María appointed herself to join the COCODE. She told me that she realized that we women are capable of making a change in the community. Now María is doing exactly this as part of her local government.
The change we are making with Mercado Global is like a mustard seed. It may seem small, but when it grows, it bears many fruits. This is the impact of community involvement. To have a plurinational state, it is necessary for democracy to be participatory, with representation of all peoples, and this begins at the local level.