Traditional Guatemalan elites must change now. Here is where to start.

“Let’s suppose we were willing to meet with them [indigenous leaders and communities],” he said, “how would we even know where to find them?”

Anita Isaacs writes a thoughtful and interesting piece in Plaza Pública about five traits of the traditional Guatemalan elites that hinder the possibility of fertile dialogues and, above all, of a democracy more participatory and inclusive.


The persistence of ethnic and racial prejudices: Guatemala’s elite class largely persists in viewing indigenous Guatemalans as they have historically treated and rendered them: primitive, uneducated, invisible and submissive. These biases exist out of greed, fear, habit and convenience… Co-imagining a democratic future in Guatemala means seeing and treating indigenous Guatemalans as fellow and equal citizens, with hopes and dreams, aspirations and abilities, political agency and voice.

Trapped in an ideological time-warp: Unable to move past the trauma of the Arbenz era or the guerilla struggle that threatened to radically transform the country, democracy is to be feared rather than embraced, reforms are not considered but rather denounced as communist, and protesters are not citizens exercising their freedoms but subversives and criminals sowing chaos and violence.

Risk-averse mentality: Guatemala’s business community is less than the image it projects. An elite that has always wielded virtually uncontested power and whose very essence is entrepreneurship often behaves in remarkably insecure and risk-averse ways…Trapped in their biases and time warp, democracy and development are zero-sum games. They cannot imagine a country where democracy can be simultaneously inclusive, just, peaceful and prosperous.

A solidarity deficit: The mechanical solidarity and bonding social capital that integrate Guatemala’s private sector are sustained and reinforced by powerful social and economic peer pressures, a mix of incentives and sanctions…The mere act of reaching across Guatemala’s historical, class, racial and geographic fault-lines in a tentative bridging capital effort was perceived as threatening the social cohesion that binds the country’s traditional elite class.

The Cantina Approach: A parable of The Cantina and how it struck a chord with willing participants but was a victim of the weight of the points outlined above.


The writer presents the article as a provocation, “as a call to action, an invitation to take a risk, resurrect and build on the possibility of the Cantina before the curtains shut on Guatemalan democracy”.

You can read the full article, with great photos by Simone Dalmasso, here, Traditional Guatemalan elites must change now. Here is where to start.



Categories: Corruption, Culture, Environment, Human Rights, Impunity, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Land, Poverty, Solidarity in Action

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