Identity Politics & Decentralization: A Study on Democratic Participation of Indigenous People in Guatemala
Meerendonk, T. van de
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This research is the result of a two month research in Santa Maria de Nebaj, Quiche Guatemala. The inquiry covers the decentralization which has found its way into Guatemalan politics with the peace accord of 1996 . This centralization means the establishment of elected autonomous sub-national governments capable of making binding decisions (Smith 1985 in Willis 1999: 8) and is important because of the autonomy that it means at the local level. The civil participation or the way in which people are able to take part in democracy (UNDP 2004: 26), is central to decentralization and is one of the most important aspects of this inquiry. In this regard it covers the aspects of identity politics and trans-local activism at the local level, centered on the question “in what ways community level citizen participation is affected by identity politics and trans-local indigenous activism?” Nebaj experienced a regime change at the end of February 2012, where the last mayor Mr. Vergilio from the Partido Patriota is succeeded by Mr. Bernal from the UNE-GANA party. This conflict is used as a lense to look at civil participation and the renewed relevance it has gotten. Secondly, one of the largest contemporary issues in the municipality of Nebaj, at the moment, is the dispute between local residents and the multinational corporations that attempt to open hydroelectric power plants in the area. This is looked at to see what the influence of identity politics is on this conflict between indigenous people and multinational corporations backed by the State. It will be shown that because the regime change marked an end to the clientelistic form of government put into practice by the previous mayor, active participation in the realm of politics was impossible for eight years. Now, a new government places a renewed emphasis on civil participation which is slowly taking the stage of Nebajs political reality. Dialog between the population and politics is open again and the auxiliary mayors, COCODES and indigenous mayors have been reintegrated into the decision making process. Fixing the relationship between the civil organizations and politics is seen as a priority by the new mayor and his administration, and has provided new ways of doing things in the community. These civil organizations that exist in Nebaj, are going through a change as a result of the change of mayors. The COCODES are changing the most because the organization will be different. In the past they have been influenced by the mayor and as a result have been politicized. Now the structure will change completely from a committee with backers of the previous mayor to a sytem of counsel in which representatives from the communities decide on the basis of compromise. Also the auxiliary mayors will be put back in the system as the representatives of the communities. They will be consulted by municipal government about their community and be able to once again function as a bridge between the communities and the state. The indigenous mayors will be recognized and worked with, as they are an important traditional organization which holds a relevance at the local level. All this is done to ensure that the municipal code of 2002 is put into practice. They do this by capacitating and giving room from the top down and at the same time working with the communities directly in a bottom up situation where communities are the primary beneficiary. Another big influence on local politics is the trans-local NGO named FundaMaya, which fights against the plans to build hydro-electric power plants in the area. FundaMaya works together with the indigenous mayors to form an alliance to hold meetings and organize small projects at the local level to battle these transnational corporations. Also they fight at the national level organizing marches and using the national network to bring problems on the community scale to the attention. This is done within the framework of strategic essentialism (Yashar 2006) and cultural rights on the basis of ethnic citizenship (see Warren 1999; Rasch 2008; Montejo 2002; Kymlicka 1995), and makes for a very particular set of claims.