So far in this year's election he
has promised farmers that he will give them free fertilizer, without
telling them how to use it or testing soil to see if it will destroy
the fertile ground of Guatemala. In July, he
"funded" a riot for his benefit. The Guatemalan
press reports that hundreds (if not thousands) of people stormed the
Capitol building in support of Montt. However, on closer
inspection it was found that the crowd was made up of the very poor,
who had been bussed to the Capitol, given a free lunch, and $100
Quetzales each (about $12) to scream and shout his name. The
result was vandalism, destruction, and one dead reporter who
suffered a heart attack trying to flee the angry mob. Here,
the day is called "Black Thursday."
So, you're probably asking
yourself, "Why would the poor support a man who fueled their
oppression only 20 years ago?" The answer is simple -
education. The government of Guatemala only funds education
for children through the sixth grade. Any further schooling is
at the cost of the families, who often are struggling just to feed
themselves. There is no such thing as a grant or a loan.
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac don't live here. For this reason, the majority of Guatemalans lack adequate
education, and nearly 35% can't read or write the national language,
still speaking only their native Mayan tongue. This is what
Montt is exploiting.
But... there is a silver lining.
Some people who have been hardened
by injustice simply freeze. They are paralyzed by oppression
and begin to believe that nothing can change. This does
not describe the Guatemalans in a little-known rural area called
Two weeks ago, Rioss Montt was
scheduled to give a firey campaign speech in a relatively small
village - a place in the western highlands where Montt's reign had
caused untold suffering and tragedy in the early 80's. The
people here have every reason to fear him. Widows remember his
armies, and orphans recall the day their parents
"disappeared." The current President of Guatemala is
from Montt's party, and strongly supports him with government
might. Still, the will of a motivated public is stronger than
Knowing that Montt's verbal
promises might sway the opinions of those without the luxury of
literacy or memory, the people of Huehuetenago formed a plan.
Though simple-living indigenous people, they banded together to
insure that his words would not be heard.
Montt's helicopter snaked through
the green mountains on its way to the village. As the
chopper crested the final peak, the landing site came into
view. However, as the pilot scanned the area, he noticed
something odd. The flat plane that would be the copter's
resting place was dotted with colorful spots. From high above,
the impressionistic painting was, in actuality, hundreds of
Guatemalans in rainbow-colored traditional Mayan dress, flooding the
landing zone. The pilot tried time and again to touch down,
yet the people would not be persuaded. Though most measure
less than 5' 4" tall, they stood firm, and Montt fled,
red-faced. Those who had been shaken to their core had finally
won a battle against the one who fought to eradicate them.
The next day in the Prensa Libre (a
Guatemalan periodical), Montt was quoted as saying that "high
winds and clouds" made it impossible to land. However,
reporters on the scene noted that it may be the first time in
recorded history that a group of people trumped God Almighty and
changed the weather.
So... what's the message
here? The election is still two months away and we don't know
the outcome. Montt is currently running a distant 3rd in the
polls out of roughly a dozen candidates. Still, many think that
Montt's ability to pay for votes as well as his propensity to take
office by force may make the election a mute point. Those who
oppose him truly fear this potential outcome. I share in their
Whatever the outcome, there is a
victory here. In Huehuetenango you have a group of people
whose core values could not be compromised. You have a group
of people who banded together to tackle a fierce opponent who seemed
insurmountable. You have a group of people who let their
convictions take the lead in the battle between fear and
Each of us faces a time in our
lives when doing the right thing requires hard work and tough
choices. We shudder at the thought of taking a risk.
We're scared of what might be lost in the process. It is these
times when we should remember those colorfully dressed Mayans in
that tiny mountain village and ask ourselves...
"What would you do if you