Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Political Manuevering

Today, pushing through a surging throng and probably due to the fact that I’m obviously foreign, I got my picture taken with the First Lady of Guatemala, Sandra Colom:

It was blatant, but why not? I might as well get myself some souvenirs while I’m here.

At any rate, Mrs. Colom visited my town this afternoon to promote the benefits offered by Mi Familia Progresa, a social program she administers. At this stage, the initiative provides a simple handout of either 150 or 300 quetzales (+/- $20 and $40) to needy families, depending on the age of their children. It seemed like a pretty straightforward political maneuver, providing support for her husband’s left leaning political party GANA (“win” in Spanish), which is obviously looking to promote its candidates for both local and federal elections next year. Meanwhile, I was pretty interested in the circumstances resulting from the day’s activities.

For one, citizens took it upon themselves to decorate the streets of my town, (even though she arrived by helicopter). I walked out of my house and found my front gate covered in streamers and balloons, along with most of the rest of the street below me.

After speaking with some women on my street, I learned that people from nearby villages did it all themselves, forming committees, contributing funds from their meager wages and arriving at 6 AM to make everything festive. What’s more, they did it without the help of my Muni - given that my mayor is of the opposing political party Partido Patriota, she didn’t even bother to show up at today’s speech. Of course, that didn’t stop her from submitting three separate requests for project funding to the First Lady, but that’s politics … which … I’m learning can be pretty fierce here. Take a look at the following picture:

Yeah, there are lots of balloons, and yes, that’s my counterpart, but look at his shirt – the orange accents are the color of Partido Patriota, which my mayor decided to integrate into the municipal uniform, which is what he’s wearing. He and I walked into the schoolyard together, waited with the masses for about an hour and then I was amazed to witness him getting kicked out because of his shirt – the security guard had no problem telling him that it “might give people the wrong idea” and he’d need to leave or change his clothing. Needless to say I was kinda flabbergasted, as I’ve never seen political oppression like that before. We left without a fuss but I returned about a half hour later, seeing that my shirt was a non-threatening color. Then I proceeded to get my little photo memoir.

All things considered, I can now say that I appreciate nice free speech a little bit more than before.

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