From EL FARO ENGLISH: A New Maya K’iche’ Voice in Guatemalan Politics

Jan 6, 2022
4:21 PM

Martín Toc, former leader of the 48 Cantons of Totonicapán, a centuries-old Maya K’iche’ Indigenous authority, is not hiding that he believes he can someday be president of Guatemala. (Simone Dalmasso/El Faro)

Guatemala, in Brief: In a fractured civil society, Indigenous authorities like the Maya K’iche’ 48 Cantons of Totonicapán have become increasingly influential in the construction of broad-based political movements connecting Indigenous communities and campesino cooperatives with urban middle-class progressives. Their ambitious, young former leader, Martín Toc, is not hiding that he believes he can someday be president of Guatemala.

Finally an Indigenous President?

If the fleeting national strike in Guatemala last July left one lesson, it’s that any future social movement willing to shift the balance of power in the 2023 elections must garner the support of a critical mass of the country’s Indigenous authorities. The largest protests since the 2015 Guatemalan Spring underscored that hard-fought consensus among politically and ethnically diverse groups could signal a groundswell and pique the interest of the other fractious sectors of civil society.

One of the leading voices in the strike was the 48 Cantons of Totonicapán, a centuries-old Maya K’iche’ Indigenous authority. The 48 bucked courtship from the Giammattei administration in demanding that the President and Attorney General resign. As a result, their previously obscure, young, and charismatic leader, Martín Toc, became something of a national sensation.

Toc immediately became the subject of presidential campaign speculators—he would have to legally wait until 2027, when he’s over 40. Even Guatemala’s main business lobby, CACIF, seems to consider him relevant enough to invite to multiple private meetings last year to discuss the country’s current events—talks on which he declined to comment.

In an interview with El Faro in Totonicapán, Martín Toc openly talks about the challenges of a hypothetical future stint as president of Guatemala, striking a note of caution: “The system absorbs or destroys leaders who seize the moment to position themselves.”

Weeks after the strike started, the coalition propping it up fizzled, at least outwardly. Since the strike, Washington has further consolidated itself as a hub of Guatemalan political exile, riot squads violently suppressed protests against an international mine operating illegally in El Estor, and prosecutors are searching for ways to slap criminal charges on prominent journalists.

It would be easy to call the strike and its underpinning movement a failure. Toc says just the opposite—that the 48 Cantons are playing a long game of national alliances, and that the strike was the first glimpse of what could be possible.

Of course, he has an interest in saying that, as he’s been relieved of his duties as president of the 48 Cantons on New Year’s Day, he now hopes to position himself as the leader of such a movement, one that could propel him to the heights of Guatemalan politics.

You can read the full interview here.

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