Forgotten Promises Leave Indigenous Peoples Poorer and Hungrier

By Danilo Valladares

, by IPS

Dec 12, 2010 (IPS) - Nearly three years into President Álvaro Colom’s four-year term, Guatemala’s indigenous people have seen little improvement in their lives — and they represent approximately half the country’s population.

"The situation of the native peoples may be even worse than before. Poverty has increased, the quality of education is very poor, and there is no intercultural perspective in health services," Eduardo Sacayón, director of the Interethnic Studies Institute at Guatemala’s University of San Carlos, told IPS.

The social-democratic President Colom promised when he was sworn in, Jan. 14, 2008, that he would govern "with a Maya face," in favour of the poor and excluded. "Today is the beginning of privileges for the poor, today is the beginning of privileges for those without opportunities," he said at the time.

But Sacayón says the reality is quite different: "It is a structural and historic issue of always seeing what is indigenous as something that is not worth the effort, that has no value, or is a burden to the country."

According to official statistics, 40 percent of the Guatemalan population is indigenous, and include Maya, Garífuna and Xinca peoples. Though they themselves claim that more than 60 percent of Guatemala’s 14 million inhabitants are indigenous.

"Since the arrival of the Spaniards (in the late 15th century), Guatemalan society has had the idea that what is indigenous has no merit, and only what is Western has value. That concept is nothing more than a racist and discriminatory viewpoint, but it is repeated through the governments, the political parties and even the media," Sacayón said. Read more