What the rising left in Guatemala and Latin America means for U.S. leftists?

By: Brandon Sanchez


Colonialism left an everlasting legacy in Latin America and Africa of pillage, plunder and violence. In Latin America, among the indigenous peoples of Guatemala, this meant the theft of their lands and their economic exploitation through the system of slavery for the profit of the oligarchy. The 19th century was more of the same; although enslavement was no longer legal, indigenous people were continually forced off their lands while still having their labor exploited through the capitalist system. In the 21st century, indigenous people are still subjected to these types of conditions even after one of the bloodiest conflicts in history—the Guatemalan civil war (1960-1996). With more than 200,000 people disappeared or murdered and the victims being disproportionately indigenous, liberation has still eluded the indigenous peoples.

With colonialism giving way to modern capitalism, a new historical epoch would emerge that would further subjugate the people of Guatemala. Furthermore, the rise of neoliberalism created further contradictions which would cause the conditions for revolution to ripen. On July 29, 2021, protests would erupt nation-wide in Guatemala after President Giammattei fired anti-corruption prosecutor Juan Sandoval. These social movements were pushed by indigenous people, CODECA (which is the union for campesinos or peasants) and the Movement for the Liberation of Peoples (MLP) party. As history has shown us, social movements don’t just appear out of thin air; social movements are responses to governments that are colonial, repressive, patriarchal and exploitative of land and labor. Along with this, one has to consider dialectics, because as times change so do the shape and face of the enemy.

Historical materialism in Marxist theory asserts that material conditions shape the social relations of a society while dialectical materialism shows the changing nature of that oppression—first with feudalism and now with capitalism. Ghanaian Pan-Africanist President Kwame Nkrumah mentions in his book Class Struggle in Africa that class conflicts are determined by changes in the productive forces. Applying this concept to Guatemala’s situation, one will see through the demands of indigenous people that changes in the productive forces have in fact pushed indigenous people to have no choice but to protest to create change.

One of the first demands that indigenous people have put forward is for Guatemala to become a plurinational state. CODECA’s book Vamos por un proceso de Asamblea Constituyente Popular y Plurinacional explains what plurinationalism means to Guatemala. Plurinationalism demands a plurinational state with 84 constituents, 40 of them being elected by Mayan, Garifuna and Xinca peoples. This shows that plurinationalism means that state power will be in the hands of the historically excluded, which is a departure from just wanting to have recognition. The Guatemalan people hope to follow in the footsteps of what the indigenous people of Bolivia have pushed forward. In 2006 with Evo Morales’ election as that country’s first-ever indigenous president, a new constitution was adopted, representing the formal reversal of centuries of institutionalized oppression and discrimination against Bolivia’s “original indigenous peasant” people and a significant step toward the goal of “refounding” the Bolivian “plurination.” Currently, Morales’ Movimiento al Socialismo (MAS) party holds power in Bolivia. After Morales was overthrown in a coup in 2019, indigenous people throughout the country mobilized for elections which resulted in MAS candidate Luis Arce being elected President. Currently, Bolivia’s socialist policies have led to the country having the lowest inflation in the Americas at just 0.9% in 2021.

The teachings of Lenin, Marx and Guevara are still present, though this time indigenous people have fused socialism with indigenismo. Indigenismo includes the concept of buen vivir and of indigenous cosmovision, which aims for harmonious relations between people, families and the community, while respecting the land and its resources. Not only that, but it is a political project of life; it is a process of satisfaction and collective living to bring forth equilibrium for Mother Nature and the cosmos to reach harmony. Thus, in coordination with buen vivir and socialism, indigenous people developed six strategies to pursue. Their first strategy is the defense of land, natural resources and well-being for the people. Second, a guarantee of food security and the construction of a sovereign institution for the community. Third, strengthening and defending the local economy to ensure a future. Fourth, the promotion of democracy of gender in all communities and organizations and non-violence towards women. Fifth, orient all plans and actions towards the reconstruction of the Mayan, Garifuna, Xinca and mestizo peoples and their self-determination as autonomous nationalities in conformity with a plurinational state. Last, adequate, dignified and healthy living standards.

In addition to the establishment of a plurinational state, indigenous people have demanded an end to the robbery of CACIF Guatemala, the end of privatization of the roadway and for the nationalization of the electric grid. CACIF Guatemala controls the agriculture, commercial, industrial, and financial sectors of the nation which are headed by private interests. Thus, it is imperative for the elite to continually expand privatization and the “free market” to continue making profits for the capitalist class in Guatemala and abroad.

Furthermore, the CODECA-MLP alliance is also pushing for land reform and an expansion of public funding to the healthcare system. According to an IMF report on Guatemala, the country’s investment in the private sector increased from 14.7% in 2021 to 15% in 2022. While privatization increases, investment into the public sector never surpasses 1%. This is an immense tragedy, as with more privatization the ones who benefit are the élite of the country and the capitalist class of the United States, as they have several businesses in Guatemala. Seeing these numbers goes to show that it is no surprise that indigenous people have risen up.

Almost a year after the first protests began, the most recent protests on April 26, 2022 show that indigenous people will not give up until change is achieved. Most recently, the indigenous people of Ecuador have begun their own round of protests against the economic situation in the country this month of June. This past weekend, Colombia elected its first leftist president in decades, which now threatens U.S. imperialism. Venezuela, Cuba and Bolivia have stood strong in the face of U.S. imperialism. It is now time for the U.S. Left to seriously consider the strategies and tactics that the Left in Latin America has been employing. Being in the belly of the beast, it is now more urgent than ever for the U.S. Left to rise up to defeat this capitalist-imperialist system.

With white supremacy being more open than ever, with the rights of women and the LGBTQ community on the chopping block, with undocumented people being fearful of deportation every day, and with Black, Brown and Native peoples under attack, the U.S. Left should prepare to further mobilize. Leftist parties should increase the political education of everyday people and materially aid the most vulnerable in this country, as the Left in Latin America has been doing. With the conditions ripening and with the contradictions of capitalism causing it to decay in the United States ever so rapidly, the time is now to rise up to create real material change for the working class. The U.S. Left should continue to keep an eye on developments in Guatemala and in the rest of Latin America to become inspired by their tenacity and their resilience to not give up in the face of capitalism and imperialism.

As with all opinion pieces, the opinions in the above article are those of the author and don’t necessarily represent the opinions or policies of CPUSA