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Indigenous Community Organizes For Reform

by Diana Pastor

Some of our traveling readers probably noticed that the 21st and 22nd of February was marked by protests —indigenous organizations from communities across western Guatemala blocked various points along the Pan-American Highway. Their motives were diverse, but their top priorities were to mobilize against the rising cost of electricity and to push for reforms in Guatemala’s constitution to establish an indigenous court system.

What is indigenous court? It’s rooted in an ancestral legal system that dates back to the fifteenth century. Indigenous communities appoint judges and hold court to deal with crimes within their community —especially questions of land ownership, domestic violence, and alimony. Indigenous courts are common in the northwestern part of Guatemala, include the departments of Alta Verapaz, Izabal, Totonicapan and Sololá. These departments tend to have lower rates of criminality than other parts of Guatemala.

In some places, the national legal system with th eir in dig en ou s community courts are already linked. A young Kaq’chiquel survivor of sexual assault recently sought indigenous court before the evidence was handed over to the legal prosecutor. Those calling for reform want to see a formal reconciliation between the indigenous and state legal systems.

What authority does the indigenous court have to punish? That depends on both the community and the crime. The aim is repentance and low recidivism —a common indigenous worldview is that life in prison is a living hell that will worsen someone’s behavior . Still, some of the punishments can be harsh. In Sololá, sentences may include restitution, community service, exile, or corporal punishment administered by the family of the victim. That last one is controversial: opponents reform say that it’s a violation of human rights. Many opponents of reform are also (ironically) pro-death penalty.

How did these proposed constiutional reforms come about? More than 1500 representatives of various  Guatemalan organizations came up with the proposal. It’s long, and I’m running out of space, but if you have enough Spanish you can read them for yourself www.reformajusticia.gt

It is the diputados in Congress who will decide to approve or deny the proposed refor ms. They were expected to go through, but the last two meetings did not make quorum, leaving the country in suspense as to whether or not the changes will be made. In the meantime, we hope that Guatemalans will be tolerant and engage in diaglogue —to do better, in short, than they have with this proposal, which has tainted the conversation with the air of racism, hate, and misinformation.

Trendy

#Volcandefuego —Guatemala’s Fuego volcano —trended this month as the mountain repeatedly belched lava, flames, and ash in to the sky. Residents of Antigua tweeted photos of their cars and patios covered in ash. Others were snarkier, seizing the occasion to take aim at (who else?) the government. “#Volcandefuego is warning the legislators of this country,” wrote one tuitero.

Guatemalans seized #elanunciodeNASA —NASA’s announcement of several new exoplanets that might be hospitable to human life. They seized this moment to make fun of Jimmy Morales, which should not surprise you. “That Jimmy Morales should be sent to the moon,” was the suggestion of one Twitter user, which sounds like a solid space policy to us here at Xelawho.

Protests blocking the Pan American Highway generated a lot of twitter noise around the hashtag #bloqueosgt. The classic anti-protester tweet, of course, is that they should all go out and get jobs. There was plenty of that in store. “I say and I’ve always said that #bloqueosgt only affect productive men and women,” wrote one user. “Get a job, huevones!” Some called for the protestors to be arrested, and worse. No tweets offered up viable solutions to the rising cost of electricity.

Some levity came from #nadamasrudoenGTque, or “nothing ruder in Guatemala than…” One young man recommended against ordering your tacos with Zone 1 in the capital. He made this point with a spiderman .gif of Toby Maguire squelching up his face, captioned “DIARRHEA” in block white letters. Enough said about that. Almost all of the recommendations had to do with food. So the next time you’re in Guatemala City, be careful about what and when you order —there’s a lot of unspoken rules you might be breaking.

#SFaborto created a space to talk about the abortion ship floating in international waters and offering women’s health care to the people of Guatemala. Men on the internet were in full form in this discussion of women’s bodies —down to a tweet, their eyes were on the ball. “Sorry FEMINAZIS, but the moment we start talking about SPERM then abortion is ALSO a men’s rights issue,” one man wrote helpfully.

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Superchivos Cumpeaños

Xelaju MC recently celebrated their 75th anniversary. Xela loves a party, after all, and this was a pretty good excuse: there was a concert at the Centro Intercultural, a gala at the Teatro, and hundreds of fireworks.

Somehow, the boys from Mario Camposeco are popular here in Xela, they bring out that special kind of affection that consistently disappointing sports team helps to engender in its fans. In those seventy-five years, you can count the number of league titles that they’ve won on the fingers of one of your hands.

It’s not all about league titles, of course. The chivos are beloved here because they’re of Xela —they belong to the city, in all of their mediocrity, and that in and of itself is worth celebrating.

The anniversary celebration was also, of course, occasion for a football game. Almost eight thousand people packed Mario Camposeco to capacity, generating some 200,000 Quetzales in profit. Xelaju MC, as they are wont to do, lost 0-1 to Municipal. The important part is that we still love them.

Santa Cruz It Or Lose It

CoverIt’s been a rough month here at XelaWho HQ. From Donald Trump’s election to Eric Trump’s on-point Gordon Gecko impressions, we here at the magazine need a breather. And what better way to get away from it all than by indulging in a little weekend away on the lake? “But I’ve already partied hard in San Pedro and had my chakras realigned in San Marcos”, you say? Good for you, but we’re talking about a proper lake retreat a little off the beaten track in beautiful Santa Cruz La Laguna. True to the modern spirit of fully disclosing conflicts of interest, your faithful editor just moved to Santa Cruz -but that being said it’s still a top place to visit. So here goes with XelaWho’s shameless self-promotion/guide to doing ol’ Lago Atitlan like a local…

After breathing in way too many dusty black clouds put out by our cool but hardly eco-friendly camionetas, even the team here at XelaWho needs to get out of our beloved city for a couple of days now and again. So when we’re not being forced to flee to Mexico for the baffling 90 day ritual of The Border Run, most of us tend to head to the lake’s own Bermuda Triangle —San Pedro, San Marcos and Panajachel. There, days mysteriously vanish to hangovers sitting in fancy restaurants, staring at the lake, ordering bloody mary after bloody mary.

Miss Adventures in Latin America: Camelot

Fernando and I had been on a few dates, and were supposed to meet up to catch a movie at Blue Angel café one night. He showed up an hour late, and we decided to go for a drive and smoke a jazz cigarette instead of keeping the Blue Angel family up past their bedtime. A little later, he asked if I wanted to go somewhere more private. I assumed his apartment, so obviously I agreed and off we went.

As we drove, I couldn’t help but notice the abundance of auto-hotels around, enough so that I made a joke about zone six being la Tierra de los auto-hoteles. For the uninitiated, an auto-hotel is a pay-per-hour love stop for sordid affairs, illicit sex, and for married and unmarried couples who have nowhere else to get it on. Fernando laughed nervously, I thought, and we kept driving. A short time later we pulled into a parking lot of a reasonably nice looking condominium building. Each condo had its own little car park quaintly painted with hearts, mountains or stars.

As we pulled into the garage I saw a sign reminding the driver to cut their engine. I didn’t think much of it at the time, especially since the other sign stating the hourly rate of Q140 hadn’t caught my eye. I nervously followed Fernando up the stairs, excited to finally see his place, and a little anxious that things were moving so fast. He opens the door at the top of the stairs and we walk in. I took a quick look around, trying to take it all in. I was immediately struck by the large bed in the middle of the room. I look to my left, my eyes scanning for the non-existent kitchen. Its then I realize Fernando is sliding money through a waist-height window in a steel door to the left of the bed. I take a closer look at the bed and noticed “Auto-Hotel Camelot”, stamped on the pillow cases, and a four-pack of condoms placed neatly between the two pillows.

There was a retro comic-book style applique on the bedroom side of the bathroom window, featuring an image of a woman who did not look happy, with a banner at the top with the words, “I became ill…” As it slowly dawned on me that this was definitely not Fernando’s modern one-bedroom apartment, and I realized the groan-factor of my joke about the land of auto-hotels, I suddenly started to panic.

My thought process was basically, “holy eff, this is an auto-hotel, I don’t know if I can do this, I kind of feel like a lady of the night. Wait a minute, that’s actually kind of hot. This guy is paying money for the privilege of playing pants-off-dance-off, and this may be my only opportunity in life to get it on in a love hotel in Latin America. What am I waiting for?”

Moral of the story? Nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Damming Update On Laguna Lachua

We published an article last month about Laguna Lachuá —a paradise found in the remote jungles of Alta Verapaz. If you missed the story, Lachuá is an area that’s protected to preserve its biological diversity. The water and environment there, unlike most of Guatemala, are free from pollution and contamination. Unfortunately, this paradise might be lost if a new hydroelectic project is constructed there to promote development for the local population. Local leaders have signed off on the project, which will reroute a significant portion of a nearby river, the Ichbolay, which feeds into Laguna Lachuá.

There are currently some 20 hydroelectric projects in Guatemala. Although they should provide clean energy via Guatemala’s rivers, they disrupt local ecosystems and are often the sites of conflict and controversy.

These fights have become more intense in years past. Hydroelectric projects are now a hot-button issue contested by government officials, construction and power companies, and civilian populations affected by their construction. Companies often seek to build these projects without the blessing of the locals. The dams reroute local rivers, which can be catastrophic for local ecosystems. Environmental impacts and construction permits are obtained through methods ranging from shady to straight-up illegal. One of the poorest and most remote communities in Guatemala —Ixiquisis, in Huehuetenango —rose up in protest last month against their local hydroelectric project. An environmental activist and community leader aged 72 was shot and killed during the demonstration. It’s not entirely clear what happened, but locals say that the victim and other protesters were fired on by armed men unknown to the community.

The dam they were protesting was roundly rejected rejected by the community in 2009. The hydroelectric company Promoción y Desarrollos Hídricos S.A. started operations there anyways. Right now, it looks like the dam at Lachuá has the support of the community, but the future of the project is still uncertain. Guatemala’s conservation agency CENAP is firmly opposed to the project; so it the department at the University of San Carlos, who argue that the dam will harm the lake by blocking off an important sorce of water.

What’s happening at Lachuá is bad news for nature lovers. We hope that sharing the news of the proposed hydroelectic project will help in some small way and help you to understand that Guatemala isn’t just a postcard but a real place -one where the fight to protect the environment rages on.

La Salsa Inglesa: An Alternative Avocado Salsa

Avocado salsa

An alternative avocado salsa

For me, avocados are synonymous with Guatemalan food. While guacamole is the most common way to serve up these savoury fruits, why not mix it up for your next Sunday Churrasco? This alternative avocado salsa has a sharp tangy flavour that makes it stand out from the rest. It keeps better than guacamole, and the parsley is packed with vitamina C.

Stuck in Xela

By Jalapeño Jacobo

Each month we send our field correspondent, Jalapeño Jacobo, to interview and harass one of Xela’s most infamous extranjeros to find out why the hell they’ve lived in Xela for so long (just kidding Xela, we love you.) This month we spoke to Guillaume Riboulleau, who is originally from southwestern France but is now stuck in (just outside of) Xela

When and why did you first come to Xela?

Ten years ago I set off traveling with the idea of going all the way from Mexico to Argentina, working on farms and learning whatever I could along the way. But I ended up finding Quetzaltrekkers here in Xela and decided to stay a bit longer than planned.

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… And after that?

I only stayed for a year at first, but while I was here I met my current girlfriend, Maike.

Ahh, so that explains it.

Yea.. basically we spent a while living in Europe and visiting Guatemala periodically, but eventually we decided we wanted to settle in one place and start building something of our own. I didn’t want to live in her home country of Germany and she didn’t want to live in France and so here we are in neutral territory.

And have you been able to build something of your own?

Yes we have! In 2015 we bought a piece of land in the hills south of Xela, and we have since been developing the property to be as self-sufficient as possible, including cultivating much of our own food and building our own house using materials from the land.

What’s the goal of the project?

It’s hard to say exactly because it’s always evolving. We started with the basic idea of providing a place for university students to live close to Xela, and we already have three living with us. But we also really wanted to build something for ourselves and the community that would promote self-sufficiency and that would exist without outside funds. We also know that some day we hope to hand the project over so that it is 100% local.

And you’re also a famous panadero now?

Yup. We made a wood-fired oven on our property and we’re now using it to make delicious sour-dough bread that is sold weekly in Frutopia.

Do you have any recommendations on how best to consume your bread?

I would recommend it be consumed constantly throughout the entire day. I usually eat it with marmalade for breakfast, and then I eat it with cheese until there’s no more bread left.

Ed: This also happens to be Xelawho’s officially recommended consumption method for Guillaume’s bread.

How has Xela changed in your time here?

There used to be much more fiesta. There were several venues that would have concerts all the time and it was easy and normal to keep partying until four or five in the morning.

Wow, I would be jealous if I was physically capable of being awake after 1 am.

There’s also twice as many cars now, way too much traffic.

Well it’s a good thing you have your hideaway in the mountains.

Indeed it is!

Thanks for making your way down to chat with us, Guillaume!

Trendy

With the highest number of Facebook users in Central America and a Twitter population growing by the thousands every month, social media can be a great place to find out what’s buzzing in Guatemala. Of course, there’s also a whole lot of nonsense posted online too, but at XelaWho we like nonsense so here are some of last month’s social media trends, with the interesting & the informative alongside the vacuous & the ludicrous.

Mexico has been rocked in recent weeks by gazolinazo protests —their national oil company Pemex raised the price of gasoline, and people took to the streets to protest in response. In Guatemala —which buys gas from Mexico —prices at the pump have also ticked up a few Quetzales. That adds gasoline to the long list of basic goods that have become untenably expensive. The Guatemalan treasury has kept the value of the Quetzal stubbornly pegged at a ratio of 7.5 to the dollar while markets want it to inflate, and the price of the canasta basica has risen steadily as a result.

To make matters worse, national power company Energuate, freshly resold to Hong Kong based holding company IC Power, is set to raise electricity prices once again. Guatemalan twitter users responded with #noalalza —“no to the rise” —in response to the government’s 2017 budget. They posted pictures of cardboard signs comparing the price of basic goods over the past decade to illustrate their point. “What’s happening here hurts everyone in the country aside from the politicians,” one tuitero said.

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Speaking Truth To Power

Last month, Xelawho took readers for a ride through the dark carnival of modern politics —detailing the politically ascendant TV clowns who’ve come to power in the United States and Guatemala. The brother and son of Jimmy Morales, as we wrote in that editorial, are in trouble for their relationship to upscale Guatemala City restaurant Fulanos y Melganos. That restaurant billed the National Property Registry in Guatemala for a whopping 90,000 Quetzales —looking to taxpayers to underwrite meals that it seemed never happened.

Once Xelawho reported this story, justice came swiftly to the Morales brothers; Jimmy’s brother Sammy was promptly arrested and his son Jose Manuel turned himself in. Although the news was broken first by the Associated Press, Reuters, and several other international outlets less reputable and influential than Xelawho, our editorial staff is firmly convinced that we busted the case wide open.

We’ve been enthusiastically high-fiving one another and blowing kisses at ourselves in the mirrors of filthy cantinas across Xela for shining a light into the darkness and holding the powerful accountable here in Guatemala once again