Interview with Ollantay Itzamná of CODECA-MLP Guatemala
On July 13, in the midst of the political crisis in Guatemala, those of us from the Working Class Platform – Salvadoran section of the International Workers’ League – Fourth International (PCT-LITCI) – communicated with comrade Ollantay Itzamná (OI) of the Community Peasant Development Committee-CODECA and the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples – MLP to ask him about the attempted institutional coup following the recent elections in that country.
PCT-LITCI: What is CODECA?
OI: CODECA was born initially in the nineties as the Committee for Community Peasant Development on the South Coast of Guatemala. With the passage of time, after 31 years this Committee has now become a socio-political movement, which no longer seeks only the development of peasant communities, as its ultimate horizon is “el buen vivir.” It seeks to overcome the developmentalist model, and is no longer focused only on peasants, but is now integrated and includes urban sectors of the country. This socio-political movement has as its main axes of struggle the organization, mobilization, training, communication, and articulation and construction of its own political power.
PCT-LITCI: Why did they move away from the traditional left of the URNG (Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity)?
OI: At its start, CODECA was the electoral nucleus or the core vote of the URNG. At the time it was proposed that the URNG accept the demands of CODECA communities including the review of privatization contracts or the renationalization of goods that had been privatized, the creation of a constituent assembly, the building of new institutions in the country, new legal rules, and also the creation of a Plurinational State. The URNG never wanted to incorporate these issues into its political program. That is why the CODECA movement decided to create its own political tool to advance toward the Constituent Assembly process. And that is how the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples – MLP – arose, precisely in order to address the need for a review of privatization contracts, the formation of a Constituent Assembly, the creation of a Plurinational State, and the goal of living well.
PCT-LITCI: How did the MLP come about and why was it outlawed in the recent elections?
OI: The Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples emerged in 2016 in the last national assembly of the CODECA movement, where 5 points were agreed upon, and one of them was the need for the creation of a political organization, or a political instrument of its own. This was because at that time there was no progressive left political organization that incorporated in its narrative or government program proposals such as the renationalization of privatized goods or the Constituent Assembly. And in that context, the communities decided to create their own political organization to move forward with these two objectives.
According to the law of political parties, a party ceases to legally exist when it does not obtain 5% of the electoral roll of votes or does not obtain any representation, and the MLP did not obtain that percentage nor any representation. The MLP obtained 76,000 votes, which is below the 5% threshold, which means that legally it should disappear. The latter has not yet been confirmed, although we should know by August because that is when the electoral process will be finalized and the official announcement will be made. However, a national assembly of CODECA is already scheduled for July 22nd, and it is certain that the creation of another political organization will be approved.
PCT-LITCI: What did the MLP want to achieve and what are its main proposals for Guatemala?
OI: The MLP was largely created to promote the Popular and Plurinational Constituent Assembly to write a new constitution, and form new institutions and new ways of life. But it had as its objective also to review the privatization contracts that handed over common goods and public companies to the private sector. This is because it is suspected that there were many illegal procedures and irregularities in the writing of these contracts. And in this sense, the ability to review many of these contracts means they would be declared null and void and as a result, the privatized goods would be recovered.
PCT-LITCI: From your point of view, what is happening in Guatemala?
OI: What exists now is a sort of internal destructive contradiction at the level of institutions, including the electoral system, which was intended to respond to the interests of the country’s ruling factions. But now they are in a sort of intra-oligarchic confrontation in which one of the main actors is considered “progressive” within the context of the oligarchy promoted and supported by the US embassy. So now, the electoral system doesn’t even serve their interests. That is what is happening in the country.
PCT-LITCI: In your most recent communiqué you claim that there is no longer a State in Guatemala, what do you mean by this?
OI: We understand the State not only as a set of obligations, but also as a set of rights, as the possibility for satisfaction at the level of goods and opportunities, and this has never existed for the majority of people. It is not possible to talk about a State when in such a small territory as Guatemala, with such a huge GDP of 85 billion—it is the tenth biggest economy in the region–that 6 out of 10 people are in poverty, that 8 out of 10 children under 5 are malnourished, and that in order for people to be recognized as Guatemalans, they have to stop speaking their language and stop engaging in expressions of their culture. From where we stand, it is not possible to speak of a State. What we have is internal colonialism.
PCT-LITCI: In addition, you point out that there has been no democracy for the native people of Guatemala under capitalism, what do you mean by this?
OI: Democracy has never existed for the people of Guatemala, because the people have never been able to rule themselves, to be elected as rulers. Today the representatives of the people are only useful when it comes time to vote. And if by formal democracy we mean that the people can be elected and exercise power in public office, then we do not have democracy since these two essential elements of citizenship have never existed for the majority of the population. It is in this sense we speak of the non-existence of democracy.
PCT-LITCI: Can you explain your proposal for a Constituent Assembly?
OI: Basically, it is for the people to write a new constitution in order to build new institutions and a new state.
PCT-LITCI: What is the solution to the current institutional crisis in Guatemala?
OI: I believe the way out is greater participation by all sectors and all peoples. But the only way out is if participation happens via a process guided by a popular and plurinational constituent assembly made up of all sectors of the population.
PCT-LITCI: What is your appeal to the people outside of Guatemala at this juncture?
OI: Firstly, the call is to be informed and attentive to what is happening here in Guatemala, mainly through the alternative media. Secondly, to demand the recognition, compliance, and respect for individual and collective human rights that Guatemala as a state has signed at the level of international agreements. Thirdly, to invite everyone to be present, as much as possible, by participating with delegations with an international presence here in the territory, and by physically participating in the processes of struggle for the defense of rights.
Translation by: John Prieto
 Translators Note: A concept from the Latin American political tradition based on the Quechua concept of “sumac kawsay.” “El buen vivir” is best translated as “good living” or “living well,” and is a way of living focused on community and ecology rather than production and consumption.