Resurrecting the “Guatemalan Dream”


When Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was overthrown as a result of a CIA orchestrated coup in June of 1954 because he was pushing land and labor reforms, hopes for economic and social justice, the building blocks for a “Guatemalan Dream,” were crushed.

ImageWhile the world is witnessing the collapse of the “American Dream”, a Guatemalan activist is working to resurrect the “Guatemalan Dream.”

Willy Barreno, who migrated to the United States in the mid 1990’s for both political and economic reasons, is the co-founder and board member of the Economic Development for a Sustainable Guatemala (DESGUA), which seeks to “to create economic development by building an international network of Guatemalan community-run cooperatives in both Guatemala and the U.S. within the Guatemalan immigrant-communities and rural Guatemalan groups.”

When Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán was overthrown as a result of a CIA orchestrated coup in June of 1954 because he was pushing land and labor reforms, hopes for economic and social justice, the building blocks for a “Guatemalan Dream,” were crushed. In the decades that followed, the country suffered under military dictatorships, death squads, genocide and a 36-year civil war that left hundreds of thousands murdered, tortured and disappeared.

While Guatemala’s civil war officially ended with the signing of Peace Accords on Dec. 29, 1996, the country still suffers from institutional racism, military and police abuses, criminal violence, poverty and impunity.

All of these conditions make Guatemala one of the poorest nations in the hemisphere, where the average minimum wage for workers is between $6 and $7 a day and which contributes to where over half of the country’s 13.3 million people live in poverty. As a result, close to 200 Guatemalans attempt to migrate to the United States every day, with roughly 15 percent of the population living in the US and sending remittances back to their families. Remittances account for 10 percent of Guatemala’ s Gross Domestic Product. But now Guatemalans living in the US are being targeted, as the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency deported close to 30,000 of them in 2008, with figures expected to rise in 2009.

DESGUA’s Barreno, who grew up in Western Guatemala in the middle of the country’s bloody 36-year civil war and was involved in the student movement in the 1980’s, believes his country is in the middle of another fight-a fight to preserve it’s culture and reclaim it’s economic independence.

“The US is informally changing the culture of Guatemala’s people,” said Barreno.”If you go to Guatemala all the garbage littered throughout the country comes from big companies like McDonald’s and Frito Lay. You’re seeing more people eating fried chicken and french fries rather than eating traditional Mayan foods.”

While Barreno says that “the U.S. is seen as the solution to end poverty,” he wants to build a homegrown solution, which he has coined as the “Guatemalan Dream.” One way he is doing this by assisting rural Guatemalan communities to create and sustain Fair Trade Cooperatives.

“Through Fair Trade we’re not going to fix the world, but we’re going to create better lives,” said Barreno. “We’re trying to build local fair trade markets within our communities.”

ImageSanta Anita La Unión a small community of ex-members of la Unidad Revolucionaria Nacional Guatemalteca (URNG), the guerrilla group that fought against the governmental repression during the civil war, is one of the communities DESGUA works with. Over ten years ago they took out a loan and bought their land from the government. Now they are using it to cultivate organic coffee and bananas. They currently provide coffee for the fair trade cooperative Just Coffee. Santa Anita is also one of the few communities in Guatemala which has its own educational system, provides its own security, while also developing eco-tourism as another sustainable economic alternative.

While Santa Anita still struggles to make their loan payments the community is making progress- the community serves as an example for other communities. But Glen Kuecker, co-founder of the Canary Institute (CI), believes they could be “the threat of a good example.”

“They’re a political threat, a symbolic threat,” said Kuecker. “They’re at risk if the political situation changes in Guatemala.”

The Canary Institute has a mission that includes providing analysis, solidarity and action concerning topics of catastrophic systemic collapse. Kuecker said CI decided to partner with DESGUA because sustainable communities are a “a resilience in a collapsing system” and working in solidarity with DESGUA provided a vehicle to learn from and support sustainable communities.

Kuecker said DESGUA’s work is helping create a country that Guatemalans will want to return to and build happy and sustainable lives in.

“They are building a Guatemala that has a future, a community that is sustainable, and a country that isn’t destroyed by American culture,” said Kuecker.

interested in supporting the eco-tourism projects by visiting the communities should contact  Glen Kuecker: gkuecker(at)

Cyril Mychalejko is an editor at He also serves on the board of the Canary Institute, a transnational collective of individuals engaged in research, writing, teaching, solidarity, and action that address the problem of catastrophic systemic collapse.

Voice of a Mountain is a video documentary of the lives of rural Guatemalan coffee farmers who took up arms against their government in a civil war that lasted 36 years. This documentary explores Guatemala’s dark history from the perspective of those who saw armed revolution as their only hope for change in a poverty-ridden nation under years of military dictatorship. Ex-combatants talk about the bleak reality of the country that led to their involvement in the war, and the response of genocide from the Guatemalan government against its people. The documentary gives insight into their motives for joining an armed conflict as interviews reveal personal accounts of struggle, hope, tragedy, and the fruits of their resistance.