2007-09. Here in Sipakapa, the People Won
Sipakapa. San Marcos, Guatemala.
September 8-9, 2007.
Issue: Elections / Indigenous and Community Rights / Mining
Nevertheless, here in Guatemala, local power structures play an overpowering role, especially in rural communities. Hence, the competition to gain municipal authority is fiercely contested for. Such local democratic processes allow for the possibility of enhanced political representation, elevated manipulation, or even potential violence. In Sipakapa, those who have led the lengthy struggle against the unjust and destructive mining activities in their municipality united to seek political power by forming the so-called Sipakapense Civic Committee. The following photo-essay documents key moments during the last 48 hours of the electoral process as lived by members of the SCC and the people of Sipakapa.
September 8, 2007
The municipality of Sipakapa, found in the western highlands plateau, is conformed almost in its entirety by the unique ethno-linguistic Maya Sipakapense group. The Tajumulco Volcano, Guatemala’s highest peak, can be seen in the background.
During the mass, Monsignor Ramazzini declares: “Brothers and sisters, tomorrow we will hold our general elections… And as I have always stated publicly, as Bishop I can not endorse any political party. But, I am willing to pledge my support for a civic committee, especially when this civic committee is formed by people whom I personally know, men who seek the welfare of their communities. Men who have faced threats and real danger. Men who truly seek the development of the municipality of Sipakapa… If we continue with this system where the orders come from the central political party offices in Guatemala City, who many times are not aware of local realities, who are managed from far away, I often ask myself: How can our country, or municipalities, truly prosper?”
During the mass, a wedding ceremony is carried out as well as 28 baptisms.
Delfino Tema Bautista (background on the right), running for Municipal Mayor with the Sipakapense Civic Committee, attends the ceremony.
Delfino Tema Bautista and Monsignor Ramazzini eat lunch together. Both men have arduously opposed mining activities in Guatemala due to the destructive nature of the industry. Tema Bautista founded the popular Sipaestereo radio station nearly a decade back and was a key member in organizing the now internationally renowned Sipakapa Metal Mining Community Consultation in 2005.
September 9, 2007
The electoral process begins in Sipakapa with four ballots available to voters: Presidency, National Congress, District Congress, and Municipal Mayor. Eighteen so-called voting tables are distributed amongst two voting centers: one in the Municipal Capital and another one in Tres Cruces Village.
The manipulation of votes is a big concern as rumors abound that certain political parties are offering money or food to those who can provide photographs of their voting ballots. Since some cellular phones have cameras, the sign reads: “Please turn off your cell phone before voting.”
The current electoral process has been the most violent since the signing of the Peace Agreements. Over 50 candidates, political activists, or family members of these have been murdered during the electoral campaign. Nevertheless, in a country saturated with violence, the democratic process continues. According to statistics provided by the outgoing federal government, 2,875 homicides were registered during the first semester of the current calendar year, most carried out with firearms. (1)
Delfino Tema Bautista visits the Parrish of Sipakapa and shares with us his work vision: “The idea to form the Civic Committee arises from our resistance against mining activities in the region. We refuse to give political space to the political parties in favor of mining.”
“The Civic Committee’s work plan materializes from the Alternative Plan Project which includes four main branches: infrastructure, health, education, and support for agricultural workers – this latter one serves as the nucleus for the entire project. For years, this sector has been ignored… We plan to heavily support agricultural development and propel the cultivation of organic coffee growing here in Sipakapa… Yes, it is true that we oppose mining, but our municipality has [economic] needs. Hence, we seek financial support, programs which will drive agriculture, so we can say: mining is not positive, but we do have other work options.” (2)
“Some communities have built the infrastructure for health services, but the centers remain without doctors or medicines. We want to find qualified personnel, medical supplies, and at least provide some first aid kits to communities without health centers… We also hope the international cooperation will provide us with two ambulances. Japan donated one, but unfortunately it fell on the hands of the municipality which has misused it to carry personnel and goods – it has never been used to carry those who are ill. We will make sure that if we do indeed get these units, a separate health organization will manage them and not the municipality as before.” (3)
Delfino gets lost in thought while he sips an Atol with rice (maize-based drink).
Delfino and Juan Tema Bautista analyze the electoral process. “We have been accused of seeking personal interests and that we have even received money from the mining company – which is absolutely false. Also that us from the Tema family have the most interest in gaining the municipal seat, and in a way, we can say that is true. But we are working to benefit our people. We are not interested in benefiting our immediate families, because for us, our family includes all the communities of Sipakapa.” (4)
Mario Tema Bautista (right), another brother of Delfino, served as municipal mayor during the 1996-2000 term and currently holds the presidency of the Sipakapense Linguistic Community. In the book Sipakapense Memory, Mario states: “The people of Sipakapa are characterized by strong will and their determination. They are proud of these traits, and so when a Sipakapense makes a decision, there is no in-between. Once a decision is taken, however difficult or absurd it may seem, they will not take a step back; No matter the consequences or the costs which may arise from such action.” (5)
With only 34 minutes left before the electoral booths close, Delfino shares a moment with his mother.
Members and supporters of the Sipakapense Civic Committee begin to congregate at their headquarters while waiting for the electoral results.
Mario and Juan Tema Bautista analyze the partial results as the final information from the 18 individual voting tables within the municipality arrive one at a time.
The partial results indicate the race is much tighter than anticipated and a pattern begins to emerge: the voting tables in the Municipal Capital tend to favor the incumbent mayor, who belongs to the GANA party, while the tables in the Village of Tres Cruces overwhelmingly favor the Civic Committee. The family of outgoing President Berger, also from the GANA party, conforms one of the primary shareholder groups in Montana Exploradora, the local subsidiary of global mining giant Goldcorp, which has its headquarters in Vancouver, Canada. (6)
With the final results in from 17 voting tables, the Civic Committee maintains a minimal edge of 71 votes over the incumbent. The one table left, however, is located in the Municipal Capital so members of the Civic Committee expect to lose it. Some have a hard time controlling their nerves.
The results from the last voting table finally come in and the Sipakapense Civic Committee holds on to win the municipality by just 46 votes.
Inside the Sipakapense Civic Committee headquarters, a joyous yell claims: “Here, the People Won!”
In his first interview as Mayor-elect of the Municipality of Sipakapa for the 2008-2012 term, Delfino Tema Bautista states: “I feel calm now and we will do the work which we pledged we would do. We did not offer and promise lies, but the work which is in our capacity to do. Thank you very much to those who supported us, and we also want to ask international organizations to support us so the Civic Committee can accomplish what was promised. And we also ask our brothers and sisters in Canada to lend their support to us here in Sipakapa because we need it.”
For more information regarding the Sipakapense Civic Committee, please contact Mario Tema Bautista (Spanish only): firstname.lastname@example.org
Versión en Español aquí.
1 Sahagún, Felipe. “Las Elecciones mas Violentas desde el Fin de la Guerra Civil”. Elmundo.es – Internacional. September 7, 2007.
2 Interview with Delfino Tema Bautista. Sipakapa, San Marcos. September 9, 2007.
5 Tema Bautista, Mario Perfecto y Aq’ab’al Audelino Sajvín Barreno. Ojor Na’tb’al Rwach Qtinmit: Memoria Sipakapense. Academy of Mayan Languages in Guatemala, 2003. P. 11.
6 Solís, Fernando. “Caracterización de las elecciones generales 2007”. El Observador Electoral. Segunda época, No.1, p. 15. Guatemala, April 2007.