Indigenous Rights in Guatemala

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Over 6.5 million people living in Guatemala are indigenous – almost 50% of the total population. Guatemalan indigenous populations can be classified into three broad groups Maya, Garífuna, and Xinca, with 24 separate groups stemming from the Mayan people.

The overlooking of indigenous rights in Guatemala is a major issue. People in Guatemala’s society often discriminate against indigenous people. Racial prejudice and social exclusion have led indigenous people to be underrepresented in politics, ostracized by employers, and made to live in chronic poverty. Additionally, some corporations have been taking indigenous people’s land and water away and threatening them if they speak up. 

To help combat these disparities, Guatemalan indigenous rights nonprofits have been able to empower indigenous communities in multiple ways. They have added their voice to indigenous populations and have assisted them in safeguarding their rights. 

Overview of Indigenous Rights 

Guatemala has passed laws ensuring indigenous communities’ rights. The constitution and the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous People accord have paved the way for indigenous liberties in Guatemala. Both of these documents promise certain inalienable rights to all indigenous communities living in Guatemala. 

According to Guatemala’s constitution, the national government should promote indigenous languages and cultures. It should protect both indigenous lands and indigenous people living on that land. In addition, Guatemala’s government should provide more land to indigenous communities in order for growth and development. 

The UN Convention on the Rights of Indigenous People accord grants many more rights to indigenous communities compared to the Guatemalan Constitution. The UN accord promises that indigenous people have the right to all universal human rights and fundamental freedoms recognized by the UN. Also, indigenous people have a right to be free from any and all discrimination and the ability to exercise their autonomy without fear or constraint. 

Guatemalan Woman looking down
Indigenous rights were promised by the Guatemalan constitution and the UN Rights of Indigenous People accord

Considering all of the indigenous rights above, what would this look like in practice?

The government should protect indigenous populations. Indigenous people should be able to freely express their culture and traditions. Furthermore, the government should afford more land to growing indigenous communities. Finally, there should be appreciation for indigenous cultures and attempts to preserve them, all while educating others about the importance of indigenous customs and history. 

Unfortunately, this ideal situation is far from fruition in Guatemala. The rights of indigenous people are often ignored due to systematic prejudice and discrimination.

Current Situation of Indigenous People

Guatemala has adopted the UN Indigenous Rights Accord and has outlined indigenous rights in its constitution. However, despite these efforts, discrimination towards indigenous communities is still commonplace. The social and economic conditions in Guatemala show inequities that manifest as disproportionate poverty and crime rates, racism, social exclusion, and lack of representation in government and media. 

Social exclusion and racist attitudes towards indigenous populations have kept the community from progressing as fast as the Ladino, Spanish-speaking population. Politically, Guatemalan society has routinely excluded indigenous people from being able to hold a seat in government. Racist attitudes towards indigenous people create a hostile environment that is more likely to cause indigenous people to be apprehensive. This unease makes it much less likely for them to participate in politics, making indigenous voices underrepresented. 

In the workforce, employers often treat indigenous people as inferior. As a result of this bias, companies aremore likely to hire non-indigenous individuals than their indigenous counterparts. These racist attitudes cause indigenous people to struggle to find work. This is one of several systemic aspects causing 75% of indigenous people to live in poverty and 58% of indigenous people to suffer from chronic malnutrition.

Indigenous people are more likely to be victims of assault, rape, kidnap, and murder. Moreover, police frequently dismiss cases like these because of racist attitudes that persist within the country. This discounting of cases only perpetuates this vicious cycle of violence and discrimination towards indigenous people. 

Guatemala society also represses and downplays indigenous culture and language. The national media, stationed in the capital city that houses a high non-indigenous population, prioritizes Spanish over Indigenous languages. Furthermore, popular non-indigenous religions, like Catholicism and Evangelicalism, receive heavy publication,invariably leaving out traditional indigenous beliefs and customs.

Indigenous woman crossing the road
Discrimination towards indigenous populations is widespread and systemic in Guatemala.

Land & Water Rights in Indigenous Communities

Guatemalan corporations have slowly stripped land and accessibility to clean water away from indigenous people. Indigenous populations residing on ancestral lands have had their land seized by corporations in order to build factories or mining initiatives. Furthermore, companies have also diverted or dammed rivers that indigenous communities have used for generations to meet their basic needs. Corporations like this are violating indigenous rights and are creating a humanitarian crisis. 

The palm oil industry is booming in Guatemala and investors will stop at nothing to maximize their profits. For example, corporations have forcefully removed indigenous communities from their land in order to build factories to harvest palm oil. These factories cause air pollution and soil contamination that negatively impact surrounding indigenous communities. 

Indigenous populations rely on their water source for survival and areadversely affected when it is dammed, polluted, and diverted. Indigenous people use rivers to fish, drink and water their crops. These communities cannot meet their basic needs without a clean and reliable water source.

If indigenous populations do not comply with the illegal actions taken by these corporations, there are often dire consequences. Corporation will often have people who advocate to preserve indigenous rights murdered. The government has done next to nothing to stop the illegal land grabs and river diverting and has made little to no progress on investigating the murders. 

How to Support Guatemalan Indigenous Rights Nonprofits?

Despite the many inequities that affect indigenous people, there are numerous ways to help combat these injustices. For instance, Indigenous rights nonprofits in Guatemala have been at the epicenter of the fight for indigenous rights. Guatemalan indigenous rights nonprofit organizations empower indigenous communities by giving them refuge and shelter when they have been displaced, offering them access to legal services, and offering safer, more reliable forms of employment. 

Guatemalan indigenous rights NGOs have provided support to indigenous populations to break past the many barriers that block their path towards success and fulfillment. Equality is still far from reach, but Guatemalan indigenous rights nonprofits support indigenous communities in order for them to thrive.

Woman with child on back in water
Guatemalan indigenous rights nonprofit organizations assist in empowering indigenous communities and help give hope for a better tomorrow. 

For these nonprofits to continue their work, they need people like you to support them.

By donating your time or making a monetary donation, you are ensuring that these indigenous rights nonprofit organizations in Guatemala can continue their work in supporting, advising, and representing indigenous people and communities. 

If you would like to support the empowerment of indigenous people in Guatemala, Pionero Philanthropy can help guide you.

Pionero Philanthropy conducts an in-depth analysis that assesses all nonprofit partners in 5 key areas; Sustainability, Transparency, Efficiency, Impact and Need/Relevance. Pionero Philanthropy also provides consulting services to match donors to the appropriate nonprofit and maximize the impact of donations.

Pionero Philanthropy’s interactive map and filter allow nonprofits operating in Guatemala to be easily organized according to rating, theme, region, and more.

Contact Pionero Philanthropy if you would like further information about our services