The betrayal by our own governments
After centuries of being a colony, many would think that finding independence from the Spanish crown would bring freedom to the original nations and the new inhabitants of the land, who come from a mix of lineages. It is, as a matter of fact, the very privileged who take the power of the new governments and continue to repeat the atrocities that were created during colonial times. Inhumane and severe actions are taken against the native population, and the resources of the country fall under the hands and pockets of the few people who end up controlling the country.
This was, unfortunately, the situation in Guatemala. Following independence, Guatemala saw several administrations and dictatorships, with the same rulers remaining in power for decades. Their authority would be built on oppression, and many of these regimes would be racist, enacting laws that directly harmed indigenous people. One example of this is the government of General Justo Rufino Barrios, who is today recognized in numerous ways, including having his image on the 5 Quetzal bill.
When considering Rufino Barrios' life, the fact that he was president for 12 years or that he married a 16-year-old when he was 39 appears to be the tip of the iceberg. He actually modified our country's economic model to favor the wealthy at the expense of the poor. This all began with his approval of the decree 170, which forced hundreds of indigenous nations and communities to give up their lands, which had previously been seized by the Spaniards and returned to them hundreds of years before. To ensure free labor for the lands he stole, he brought back an old practice from the invaders that had been abandoned 200 years prior, and forced the indigenous to work for free or face harsh punishment if they denied it. He quite literally brought the Maya people's enslavement back to life.
Justo Rufino Barrios was a big fan of the Germans, therefore he encouraged them to come to Guatemala by offering them highly affordable land and 200 Maya indigenous laborers per new landowner. These newcomers would gain thousands of hectares, eventually owning two-thirds of Alta Verapaz, one of Guatemala's largest states. When the indigenous Maya people witnessed this, they attempted to rise in protest, but were met with pure violence and oppression. In order to instill fear among the native nations, Rufino asked that many protestors be murdered in public view. Though, in Justo Rufino's opinion, he was not doing anything bad since he believed that the indigenous people were dumb and lazy, and he was assisting them in breaking free from these cycles of self-imposed suffering.
And this is just one example of these governments that would favor newcomers, other countries, and the wealthy; who would focus on economic and financial gain rather than supporting the very people who they are supposed to be protecting.
Unfortunately, there are many more governments like this. One of these regimes was the office of Jorge Ubico, a recognized oppressor, who would impose an authoritative norm and prohibit freedom of speech. Ubico is well-known in Guatemala for a famous rule he had in which those accused of committing a crime were taken to a place called La Barranquilla, where their alleged crime was read to them, and they were given a few seconds to run to try to escape, but were shot to death while running. Ubico was an oppressive dictator who sympathized with the fascist policies of Benito Mussolini in Italy, Francisco Franco in Spain, and Adolf Hitler in Germany. Many practices would be dedicated to this sympathy, such as creating a Hitler youth in a German school.
His dictatorial and military nature drew him closer to the worldview of European fascist groups. It shared their nationalist exaltation, authoritarian techniques, and political centralism personified by a charismatic leader. His enthusiasm for military discipline penetrated society to the extent where military studies were made mandatory in primary and secondary school curriculum. It got so bad that in 1937, Jorge Ubico received a letter from German Chancellor Adolf Hitler congratulating him on his Guatemalan leadership.
Unfortunately, these are only two of the presidents, but the list could go on and on. This is our country's history, which has led us to the condition in which we are in, with administrations with unparalleled levels of corruption and impunity. It is quite distressing to observe how these administrations have repeatedly failed the people for whom they are meant to care.
To change the course of our history, we must first understand about the path we have been on, about our past. According to our Maya elders, history is a part of who we are, it forms a part of our root system. Therefore, let us reconnect this part of ourselves and our nation in order to move forward to a brighter future.
Video resources from Ronaldo Robles. www.youtube.com/@ronaldoroblesgt
- By Eline from the Mayan Wisdom Project.