Looking at Guatemalan society, we see divisions of class and ethnicity that may look familiar. People living in cities generally have better health care, better education, and more job opportunities. Often they’re Ladinos, a mixed-ethnicity Spanish-speaking group leading reasonably comfortable middle-class lives. In addition, a wealthy and educated urban elite provides leadership in the government and in business interests.
By comparison, many of Guatemala’s original people, the Maya, live today in indigenous rural communities like Chichipate and speak one of several indigenous Mayan languages, although there will be a few people who also speak Spanish. These villages will have limited health care, limited education, and fewer jobs. A difference in language both mirrors and deepens the differences in class, ethnicity, and dwelling place. People without Spanish will have a difficult time moving to a Guatemalan city for a better life.
The primary concerns of the current government of Guatemala appear to be maintaining security and supporting resource extraction by foreign companies. The system of civil and criminal justice is under pressure to protect members of the government, security forces, and foreign corporations. Mayan communities like Chichipate were targeted in the thirty-six year civil war that ended in 1996; an independent review commission estimated that 200,000 civilians were killed.
Chichipate’s people speak Q’eqchi. Established in the 1940s, Chichipate began as a village of displaced people who had nowhere else to go. The people of Chichipate grow their own food. They need land and clean water. As the Russian nickel mine and the Unilever palm oil plantations keep demanding and polluting more and more resources, the people of Chichipate may well be displaced again.
In the second chapter of First Corinthians, Paul teaches that we don’t have to be guided only by human wisdom—we have the mind of Christ. It’s that Christlike mind that we’ll need this week as we encounter our sisters and brothers, our hermanas y hermanos, in Chichipate. They have suffered in ways we cannot begin to understand and cannot fix. What can we offer? Accompaniment in their journey — solidarity with their concerns – and friendship. Sisterhood.
Curious? Dubious? Links to reading materials on all these topics are here.