El Movimiento Maya In Guatemala

There are a number of different social movements that are connected to indigenous groups in Latin America. The term indigenous, in it’s most original form, refers to a specific ethnic group that is able to trace it’s familial roots to one of the earliest known civilizations. This
ability, causes identity becomes a crucial element in a social movements formation. El Movimiento Maya could be considered one of the most influential indigenously based organizations today. Although the Movimiento Maya, or Mayan Movement, as an established group has only been around for a relatively short time, the issues leading up to it’s development began many years ago.

The repression of the indigenous peoples (in particular those of Mayan descent) of South America began with the appearance of the European explorers. Although it was a relatively strained cohabitation and clash of cultures, it was not until the Europeans began to seize indigenous land that the situation became hostile. The inhabitants then suffered cruel and inhumane abuses. Violence, and forced slavery were common forms of oppression leading to the eventual collapse of the human spirit. Blatant disrespect was demonstrated through the taking of their land and lives. Their culture and values were nearly destroyed, and the struggle for acceptance, respect and autonomy was put into motion.

With the development of new repressive governments over the years following colonization, the majority of the indigenous population began to recognize the need to join under the common desire for reforms. These collective units were designed with the intention of standing up against the treatment that they had all become too familiar with. This common desire for reform led to their mobilization and the institution of this particular social movement.

Guatemala is home to a large population of Mayan peoples and is also the birthplace of this movement. Although the ideas that have become the essential backbone to El Movimiento Maya have been in the works for a while, they have only truly come together to create an indigenous movement in the 1970s. The movement was technically established at this time, yet it had trouble becoming fully functional due to severe repression that came from the army and the government which, in many cases, led to violence. This repression lasted until the later years of the 1980s, but with the arrival of the 1990s, the movement officially received the name “Movimiento Maya” in the hopes of being seen as legitimate and with the potential to influence change. With the movements establishment came the need for the first clearly defined goals which were decided upon and laid down by Mayan intellectuals. These goals were: conservation of Mayan culture production, self-representation and self-determination and the promotion of governmental reform within the framework of Guatemalan and international law. These intentions have been maintained, but have begun to be stated in new ways as a result of the
changing times and the need for the movement to change and grow with them.

The movement accomplished a great feat when the signing of the agreement between URNG (la unión Revolucionaria Nacional de Guatemala) and the government occurred. Even though the government did not follow through, this meant that the movement had progressed enough to have its goals shared by other groups and that they had escalated to the level of being recognized within the political sector. This sharing of goals and methods is one of the ways that El Movimiento Maya can be considered a transnational and a new social movement. Along with the sharing of goals, this movement is considered transnational because it is looking to educate and reach out to other groups and aid them in gaining rights. It is important to understand that El Movimiento Maya has successfully achieved pan-mayanism, which is to say they have been able to become a movement that is willing and able to incorporate within itself many other social groups.

Elements of both old and new social movements are evident in these shared goals and as a result, this movement can be distinguished from others of a similar nature. When they began, they could be characterized as filling a position within old social movements because many of their demands were initially class based. The goals that developed and began to characterize the movement as new included reforms related to language and culture, education, land and political participation with an emphasis in an opposition to what they view as negative neo-liberal ideas and reforms.

Language and education reforms are ideal examples of the inclusion of themes related to new social movements because they in past situations have been limited to more of the “western world”. Another way that this movement could be viewed as a new movement is that not only are they planning for the present, they are able to recognize the need to look towards the future which is expressed in the quote “comprender el pasado para pensar en el futuro” (Bastos 6).

El Movimiento Maya is an interesting case study because it is a movement that truly began at the very bottom with the most basic of ideas and methods, and has grown into a widely recognized and influential group. In recent years, there has even been indigenous representation and international support. In the coming years it will be important to continue to work to learn, understand and respect the indigenous perspective as what remains most important in their efforts is the conservation of their culture.

“El movimiento ha sido y es una de las fuerzas políticas más creativas,
cuestionadores y movilizadores del panorama político actual en Guatemala,
que ha obligado a que se plantee qué es la nación guatemalteca y cómo está
organizada su sociedad.” (Bastos 10)

Works Cited:
Bastos, Santiago, y Manuela Camus (2003). “El Movimiento Maya en Perspectiva; Texto para reflexión y debate.”

Lovell, George W. and Christopher H. Lutz. “A Dark Obverse”:Maya Survival in Guatemala. Geographical Review. 1996.

Cleary, Edward L., and Timothy J. Steigenga. Resurgent Voices in Latin America: Indigenous Peoples, Political Mobilization and Religious
. Rutgers University Press, 2004.

Foweraker, Joe. Theorizing Social Movements. Pluto Press, 1995.

Mimpen, Jeroen. “Indigenous movement in Guatemala; A history of struggle and resistance”. Civil Society Building.

The Indigenous Movement and it’s Organizations

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