mesoamerica and the maya world

Category: politics

Women, Latin America, and the U.S.

Laura Chinchilla, 46th President of Costa Rica.

Laura Chinchilla, 46th President of Costa Rica.

Lately I have been trying to figure out why there is such an extreme strain of misogyny and gynophobia in the United States. A related question, and maybe a clue to the answer, would be why Latin America has been the region with the most women presidents in recent years. According to the Inter-American Dialogue think tank, as reported in Diplomatic Courier, “since 1970 eight of 29 women elected as heads of state around the world have come from Latin America or the Caribbean—an impressive 27.5 percent.”

Nicaraguan poet, writer, and political activist Gioconda Belli, in an article in The Economist (published before the U.S. presidential election) argues that “behind every macho man there’s an insecure boy in need of mothering, so in Latin America men in all their virile glory have not disputed the suitability of women for the higher office.” My instinct is to recoil from this pop psychology (which Belli says is “based on my powers of observation as a writer and my feminine intuition”), which seems a bit offensive in its implicit condescension. Then again, is it so different from some of what Octavio Paz argued? Belli goes on to say that

It is a big step to have women as presidents, but in the patriarchal structure of power we have all inherited, very often women are still forced to prove that they are as “tough” as the toughest of men. A woman president who would defy the masculine model of power and infuse it with the feminine ethic of caring and real equality is still in the making. Although women as Latin American leaders have many challenges ahead, they have managed to get to the right place, and now they have to be daring enough to seize or declare that it is the right time.

As a woman who has spent her life in Latin America, Belli has cred that I can never have. Still, I return to the issue of misogyny in U.S. politics and culture. Is the implication then that the role of the mother is comparatively devalued in the U.S.? Maybe to an extent, but I don’t think that can be the biggest part of the answer.

Whatever the reason, our fear of powerful women is an embarrassment, and a factor that impedes our social and political progress.

Child labor in Guatemala

Young worker in market in Antigua, Guatemala. Photo copyright Rudy Giron, all rights reserved.

Young worker in market in Antigua, Guatemala. Photo copyright Rudy Giron, all rights reserved.

It’s been four years since I’ve posted on this site. During those years I was focused on print projects (I published three books), but now I am renewing my web activities. When I thought of reviving this site, the first place I looked was Rudy Giron’s blog, Antigua Daily Photo, which is the source of this photo. I wanted to begin with Rudy, because he is a knowledgable resident of Antigua and an indefatigable blogger, as well as a talented photographer. Rudy’s blog now says that unauthorized use of his material is prohibited except for links and excerpts, so I am requesting permission. Please do not use his materials without authorization.

One of the most troubling features of Guatemala and the Maya world in general is that it is so damned photogenic even when the situations the photography documents are problematic. I’ve seen this so many times. Here we have a beautiful photo of a young girl in a market, and the picturesque quality, if we’re not careful, can blind us to the harsh realities of child labor.

Rudy writes on his blog, “It breaks my heart to see SO MANY children working instead of being in school like they should if the laws were enforced in Guatemala.” He is quite right, and I urge you to visit his blog to learn more about Antigua, Guatemala, from an insider’s perspective.


Guatemala in danger

In an opinion piece in the Global Post, Mark Schneider argues that the Guatemalan state is in danger of collapsing. This is how he begins:

While U.S. attention has rightly been focused on Mexico’s drug wars – with high-profile trips by President Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton before this weekend’s Summit of the Americas – Mexico’s southern neighbor is in far more serious danger of becoming a failed state. Reeling from gangs, corruption and pervasive poverty, Guatemala now faces well-armed, well-financed drug cartels.

Hillary Cumbia

The Clinton campaign has its own music video aimed at Texas Latino voters. The have logged in with the cumbia Hillary Hillary Clinton. I don’t think it’s as catchy as Obama’s mariachi Viva Obama.

Viva Obama

Whatever your take on the U.S. elections, you’ve got to admire this video, another example of the smartness of the Obama campaign team.

Por que no te callas?

This song is going viral in many parts of the Spanish-speaking world.

VIP behind bars

A new film from Guatemalan director Elías Jiménez Trachtenberg, VIP La Otra Casa, has just been released. According to Inner Diablog,” A government official called Juan Ramos is jailed for suspected corruption: an unusual enough premise in Guate. Apparently the rest of the film is about his struggle to get himself transfered to the VIP part of the prison and the plots hatched by his personal enemies that are geared towards ensuring that his stay behind bars is nasty, brutal and short.”

Colom wins!

Alvaro Colom, in something of an upset, apparently has defeated Otto Pérez Molina in the race for president of Guatemala. Colom had lost his one-time lead and was trailing in most polls. Colom took most departments, although Perez appears to have won Guatemala City, thanks to his anti-crime message. Turn-out was low.

The Maya vote

the maya vote, from the new york times

The NYT has a nice slide show of images related to the Maya vote in Guatemala’s elections, and why Rigoberto Menchu didn’t do better (she was sixth out of 14 candidates, with 3 percent of the vote).

Rudy at La Antigua Daily Photo is inviting comments on the slide show.

The Art of Political Murder

the art of political murder, francisco goldman on guatemalan murder caseIlan Stavans reviews Francisco Goldman’s The Art of Political Murder in the Los Angeles Times. The book is a look at the 1998 murder of bishop Juan Gerardi Conedera, vicar-general of Guatemala City. Goldman’s book apparently imlpicates current presidential candidate Otto Pérez Molina in the murder. Stavans criticizes the book (which I have not yet read) as lacking focus and style; in Publishers Weekly, on the other hand, Trent Olson says that “Goldman manages a clear narrative,” asserting that “his journalism isn’t so much a departure from his fiction as an extension of his concerns with the fraught landscapes where ‘truth’ is as contested as the soil underfoot, yet central to battles waged over it.”

(image links to book page at amazon)



To no one’s surprise, no presidential candidate in the Guatemala elections received a majority of the vote. Early reports show Colon at 36 percent and Perez at 29 percent. Menchu received less than 3 percent.

The second-round election will take place in November. According to Prensa Libre, Perez would win a runoff election against Colom with 52.6 percent of the vote.

LINK: Que significa el 3% de Rigoberta?

Guatemala election polls

Polls are currently showing a close race with Colom holding a tenuous lead.

Vox Latina: Colom 32, Perez 32
Ultima Hora: Colom 35, Perez 27
Borge: Colom 31, Perez 28

Perez Molina was the head of military intelligence during Guatemala’s horrible civil war. Colom is a businessman and economist. Rigoberto Menchu does not appear to have mobilized a lot of support.

via bloggings by boz

Rigoberto Menchu campaigning in Poptun

This image is from the websites of the municipalities of San Luis, Poptun, and Dolores in the Peten. Despite killings and intimation, Rigoberto Menchu continues her campaign for the presidency.

Poptun has a population of about 30,000 people. It is the base for Guatemala’s counter-insurgency jungle warfare special operations military elite, the Kaibiles. The name is derived from Kayb’il B’alam (Kaibil Balam), a Maya leader who led opposition to the forces of the Spanish conquistador Pedro de Alvarado and successfully evaded capture. During the civil war the Kaibiles were implicated in the massacre of civilians.

rigoberto menchu campaigning in poptun

Bloody build-up to Guatemala elections continues

Clara Luz López, a candidate for the Casillas City Council in the Encounter for Guatemala party of Rigoberta Menchú, was shot and killed Monday on her way home from a day of campaigning. “This is a clear message for our candidates and for us,” Menchu said. This election has been the bloodiest since the end of the civil war, with at least forty people killed.

According to Reuters, “Some of the killings are attributed to wealthy drug gangs seeking to control political parties to help transport Colombian cocaine through Guatemala to Mexico and the United States. U.S. officials estimate the majority of cocaine that reaches American cities passes through Central America.”

Why is this getting so little press coverage outside Guatemala?

Felipe Carrillo Puerto

balcony at felipe carrillo puetro

This charmingly saggy balcony sits across from the Balam Na in Filipe Carrillo Puerto. This is quite near the spring that gave birth to the Talking Cross and was the fount of one of the longest-lasting revolutions ever.

The eye of Hurricane Dean passed about 60 miles south of here, but the bulk of the news reporting has focused on the sparing of the tourist hotels at Cancun.

UPDATE: Hurricane Robs Maya of Vital Fruit Trees

Revolution in Guatemala, 1944

Jorge Ubico y Castañeda ruled as dictator of Guatemala from 1931 to 1944, the year documented in this great historical footage (with “Sail to the Moon” by Radiohead as a soundtrack). Ubico was one of the models for the president in Miguel Angel Asturias’s classic novel El Señor Presidente (The President). Asturias’s book stands as one of the greatest novels about the Latin American strongman.

In 1944 Ubico’s regime was overthrown by the “October Revolutionaries” after a general strike forced him to cede power to a cabal of his generals. Two young officers, Jacobo Arbenz and Francisco Javier Arana, executed a final coup, and then allowed a general election. In 1945 Juan José Arévalo was elected president, initiating was is called The Ten Years of Spring. The period ended when the United Fruit Company was nationalized and the CIA orchestrated a coup to undo the progressive reforms.

Deadly elections in Guatemala

This year’s presidential elections are the deadliest since the 1980s. Frontrunner Alvaro Colom has called his chief opponent, Otto Perez Molina, an idiot. Perez Molina has called Colom a thief. Meanwhile, “the electorate is tremendously skeptical.” And people keep dying.

Francisco Goldman is releasing a book that implicates general Perez Molina in the murder of Bishop Juan Jose Gerard, a human rights activist.

Los Angeles Times
Inner Diablog

Some rights reserved 2022 buried mirror: latest reflections. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons (attribution, noncommercial, no derivs: 3.0) License (US), although some of the work this blog incorporates may be separately licensed. Text and images by Thomas Christensen unless otherwise noted. For print permissions or other inquiries please request via