I am now finally adjusting to time and planning as it exists here, and the consequential theme of waiting that seems to pervade the entire system. At first I thought that perhaps, as a foreigner, I was experiencing a particularly unfortunate and exaggerated series of delays and no-shows. But after attending community radio workshops, and governmental meetings, it has become clear that waiting is just part of the process. Waiting for meetings to begin, and waiting, for years, for indigenous rights.
Last Wednesday I woke up at dawn to travel to Guatemala City with Tino, the founder of Mujb' ab'l yol, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to democratize Guatemalan media starting with the legalization of community radio. A charming and charismatic man, Tino exudes a passion for bettering his community, constantly speaking of his long-term goals and hopes for the country of Guatemala. An ex-guerrillero, he explained to me how, after civil war battlefields, family murders, and extreme depression, he realized "the power of the microphone."
On the 5-hour bus ride he briefs me on the purpose of the meeting in Guate. It is a congregation called by the Mesa Plural, a "collective" that consists of various organizations that are "pro-rights of indigenous people." Together they are planning to draft a letter to the president, Otto Perez Molina, establishing their position as a colectivo with regards to the recently proposed constitutional reforms.
There is one meeting planned for 11am, followed by another at 3pm, which is to be attended by the ex vice president of Guatemala. Tino seems excited that a governmental representative is coming and acknowledging the issue. But when we arrive he receives news that the 11 o'clock meeting is cancelled. 4 hours to kill. Soon after, he also finds out that the ex vice president can no longer attend. But none of this comes as a surprise to Tino. The update is mentioned in passing and shrugged off with a sigh, demonstrating just how common-place it is.
We finally make our way to MOLOJ (Political Association of Mayan Women), where the afternoon meeting takes place. They are handing out copies of the agenda. At the top it reads "¡Urgente!" Despite the urgency, the various organizations trickle in gradually, having travelled long distances with the public transport of chicken buses, which have unpredictable time tables, if any at all. The groups have different priorities, which, according to Tino, makes for a disjointed process and slow progress. He quotes the saying, “divide and rule,” which, for him, embodies the unfortunate situation that plagues the indigenous people of Guatemala. But together the Mesa Plural agrees on one thing: the constitutional reform needs to recognize and articulate indigenous rights. The right to decide their own model of development, to have access to means of communication, to retain ownership of their land, and to have their languages officialized, to name a few.
“Since the first Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala in 1825, the rights of the Maya, Xinka, and Garífuna peoples have been made invisible and negated. These mechanisms have been the base of racism of the state, whose institutionalization was reaffirmed in every one of the constitutions and reforms realized throughout the history of this country... We believe that under the current conditions of the debate in Guatemala, the proposal does not transform the exclusive, monocultural, and monoethnic nature of the state, but instead accentuates historic mechanisms of racism, discrimination, and exclusion against the Maya, Xinka, and Garífuna people that make up our country.”
The letter is signed and stamped and sent to the office of the president. Hopefully they will get a response. At one point Tino explained to me, “Everything is money.” The Mesa Plural does not have money to offer in order to institutionalize indigenous rights in Guatemala. And without money there's no urgency, priority, or power. He believes that the right to community radio is something “premordial, that speaks to one's conscience.” But so far, the moral obligation has yet to resonate. So instead they take the slow path of lobbying and waiting in line-- Tino has dedicated himself to this mission for the past 14 years. As he puts it, “It's a process.”