Politics & Festivals

Elections are slated for September 6th in Guatemala – a new president will be elected and several other national positions are up for grabs. After all the corruption scandals and protests this year that led several high ranking politicians to resign or be removed from office, people are hungry for responsible and responsive leadership. But so far I hear it’s still the same old story albeit with new faces…but I don’t know enough to comment on that.

What I do know is that for the past two months there have been an overwhelming amount of political spectacles trying to win votes for candidates. Almost every party – and there are at least 15 of them – has held boisterous rallies with blaring music and long-winded speeches, marches through the streets, vehicles with large speakers on their roofs driving through town at all hours blasting popular songs with the lyrics adapted to support their candidates, and lots and lots of fireworks. I’ve never really enjoyed political campaign seasons but I have especially disliked this one as it has stolen several hours of sleep from me each week, so I’m looking forward to the elections as much as anyone. Well I guess I’m looking forward to the day after the elections – but there will likely be fireworks and music from the winning party then so there goes that plan.

A disproportionate amount of political campaign spending is targeted at rural areas. Here many parties offer gifts to their supporters – essentially buying votes. Unfortunately it’s an effective tactic more often than not because levels of education and understanding of the political system are so low. Last week I witnessed the presidential candidate for one of the largest parties fly in to Chajul on a helicopter only to speak for a few minutes. But thousands of people were bussed in from surrounding villages to fill the streets and welcome the guy. In a town where more than half the residents live in poverty it was a bit unnerving to put it mildly.

I’m looking forward to the elections not only for the extra sleep I’ll get but also to see if the recent protests will have any real impact on the results. In the United States, our “democracy” has almost always really been an oligarchy where policy is decided by the wishes of the wealthiest and most connected people, not by the general public. Probably more than half the time the wishes of the elites and the majority coincide but when they clash it’s the elites that get their way about 4 out of 5 times. I’ll hold out judgment on Guatemalan democracy until I see how things turn out next month and over the next year.

Annual Town Festival
Every town has an annual feria or festival to celebrate its patron. For Nebaj the patron is “Santa Maria de la Asunción” or the Assumption of Mary which falls on August 15th. The feria lasts the entire week leading up to the date. People come from all around to see the sights, play carnival games and dance in the costume parades. Nebaj seemed to have transformed into Disney World overnight – or at least into Coney Island. There were two Ferris wheels set up, there was a full block of foosball tables, stalls of food and trinket vendors lining all the side streets near the central park, and a town dance every night. There were even some pretty impressive fireworks on the last two nights.


The last two days saw the custome parades from 7 am until 9 pm. The first day is for men with a wide range of outfits mostly inspired by cartoons it seems; There were even a couple of dragonball z characters. The next day was for women who also seemed inspired by cartoons except maybe a little more by anime. They were very elaborate costumes but I must say I was disappointed not to see more Mayan costumes.  The town dances were definitely my favorite part of it all; I went to three of them.


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