Citizen Maya

Guillermo Alberto Padilla
Dept of Environmental Science, Policy, & Management, University Of California, Berkeley
July, 2005


Citizen Maya exposes the question of citizenship, justice and segregation, of the Mayan people in Guatemala. The work identifies structural causes on the development of a racist ideology and, the reason and its consequences, in the nation-building process, of the exclusion of the Maya in the configuration of the state. The work argues that from the foundation of the state there were two main political orientations within the dominant class. For the liberal sector, the indigenous people were to be assimilated, even by force if necessary. For the conservative ones, they were to be granted the so-called age-minority status, which translated in practice into a political and social segregation. In spite of that division, the two sectors were united in the common view that the indigenous population should be deprived from their land in order to force them to work in the large haciendas. Citizen Maya's mayor argument is that this model, with the peace process, which in 1994 begins with the signature of the Peace Agreements, has begun to change. As the indigenous populations in the wake of this historic juncture, have increased their awareness about their citizenship and, supported by a new legal framework, have begun an empowerment process that is changing the unequal distribution of power in the country. The key question introduced here is a novel definition on collective citizenship. Chapter I make a critical review of the most important legal instrument relating to indigenous peoples rights, the United Nations International Labor Organization Convention 169. Chapter II analyzes the legal and constitutional situation of a still heated Guatemalan debate: whether or not the indigenous systems of justice are recognized and legally viable, along with the contemporary international debate on legal pluralism. Chapters III, IV and V, present emblematic cases selected from real experience, which examine some of the problems of access to justice for the indigenous populations. Finally, the high moral values and principles of the Maya culture, which still are present in their traditional system of justice, are highlighted as the key element that constitute the main contribution to humanity from the Mayan people.