Reflecting on Independence Day in Guatemala

By: Este Chep, BTS Interim Guatemala Coordinator and Stacey Gomez, BTS Maritimes Coordinator

September 15th marks Independence Day in Guatemala. This year marks 199 years since the transfer of power from the Spanish Crown to the European elites and their descendants in Guatemala. Many Indigenous people and organizations in Guatemala question whether this is something to celebrate. 

September is usually very festive. Traditionally, it is the culmination of months of marching band practices across the country. Every year, students aided by teachers will practice songs, often out in public, so that on September 15th they can march the streets and play homage to their country. This year, those daily sounds were missing. While the government still held commemorative performances by soldiers in key plazas around Guatemala, this time around felt less festive than usual. Patriotism this year was overshadowed by the lack of trust in the Guatemalan government’s response to COVID-19 pandemic.

This year, the Guatemalan human rights organization UDEFEGUA hosted an online forum on September 15th entitled: “Independence from the monarchy, slavery of the oligarchy?” Watch the video here (Spanish only). 

Kaqchikel anthropologist and columnist Sandra Xinico Batz spoke about how racist ideology upholds the power of the Guatemalan oligarchy and that Indigenous communities have generated their wealth. She says, “We’re talking about a process of 500 years, including dispossession, extermination, violence, slavery, impunity and corruption. These days, we talk about independence and liberty, but we don’t talk about what that meant. It’s been a process of extermination for Indigenous communities.”

“The oligarchy sustains and maintains power. But, it hasn’t been easy, because there has always been a resistance and struggle [by Indigenous communities]…The fact that Indigenous communities in our territories are alive, exist, have their own language, worldview – is because there has been a permanent resistance.” shared Sandra Moran, the first feminist and openly gay Member of Congress to be elected in Guatemala. She joined BTS for a speaking tour throughout the Maritimes in 2018. 


So, as we move into the fall equinox and our last few weeks of rain, let’s celebrate the resistance that continues to take place across the territory every single day instead. We celebrate work being done by the Xinka people to assert their rights and identity, including a historic Constitutional Court ruling recognizing their right to free, prior and informed consent.  We celebrate the agrarian forum organized and carried out by the Highlands Committee of Small Farmers (CCDA).  We commemorate the legacy of Myrna Mack Chang and her exemplary work for truth and justice.  We celebrate the young generations of Indigenous activists and organizers standing at the frontlines of resistance, asking the government “Where is the Money?” and pressuring them for transparency.  We celebrate the bonds of solidarity across the lands that make us stronger and enshrine resistance into a celebration worthy of song and marches across Ixim Ulew (Land of Corn), Guatemala.

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