By Dara Sanford
In the past few months, Guatemala has been hit by a wave of protests aimed at the government, focusing primarily on corruption endemic in the country. Thousands of Guatemalans, a majority of whom are Millennials, have taken to the streets to show they are fed up with corruption and that they want their government to do more in terms of responding to their needs.
One organization working on helping the Guatemalan youth demand more from the government through protests and various other channels is Cincoen5 (Five in 5). Cincoen5 is a collective of six organizations that work together to improve development in Guatemala focusing on five key areas: education, security, nutrition, infrastructure, and employment. The collective has a specific interest in helping youth become more politically active.
Since its creation in 2013, Cincoen5 has created and shared a long-term development plan for Guatemala, held multiple meetings around the country, including universities, and has remained an active participant in social mobilizations.
In this interview, we had the opportunity to talk to Walter Corzo, whose organization Jovenes Contra la Violencia (Youth Against Violence) is a member of the collective, about the current situation youth in Guatemala are facing, the work of Cincoen5, and what the collective is planning for the future.
Q: First, what are some of the challenges the youth in Guatemala are facing right now and how can increased participation in the political process help alleviate some of these challenges?
A: There is a big call for change. This is because the young people don’t see their needs being acknowledged by the government. What we are doing right now is putting a lot of pressure on the system, but government is resistant to making changes. In Guatemala, 50 percent of people live in poverty, and that is a huge problem.
There are many things worrying the youth right now, there are many issues where the government hasn’t done anything. And that’s why I think we see all of these peaceful protests, they are trying to send a message to the authorities.
We have to continue to promote spaces were the youth can participate and have a direct impact. There is going to be a generation change. We have to train ourselves, we have to participate, and then we can have an impact on the generation change.
Q: Can you tell us a bit about Cincoen5?
A: We began working in 2013, when young civil social organizations realized the country was going on a very difficult path. In Guatemala for about 35 years, we have not had any political party win two elections in a row. We haven’t had any continuity in political policies and this has an impact on the development of a country. So we [the civil social organizations] decided to get together and call ourselves Cincoen5.
We started this initiative to build a development agenda proposal, with the idea to take this proposal to the policy makers and government. We prioritized five areas to work on and develop an agenda around: education, security, nutrition, infrastructure, and employment. Many of these proposals were made by young people, but are for all Guatemalans. This proposal was presented to government, congress, and other relevant actors.
Q: How did the 5 organizations get together and decide to work together?
A: Actually, now we are 6 organizations! Before Cincoen5, the five original organizations had already worked together on other activities. We realized that all of the organizations were working on one of these five areas so we saw beyond what we were working on individually and realized that everything comes to one point: the development of our country.
Q: How do the youth get involved in Cincoen5 and what do they do?
A: We have a large group of young volunteers. We train them in different areas and they come with us to the different communities to present the policy proposals and encourage other young people to become involved in the program and in holding our government accountable. They are an important part of all of the organizations in Cincoen5.
Q: How has the response been towards Cincoen5?
A: The response has been good. We have had a significant impact because we were able to go to all of the important institutions that are dealing with the five key areas and were able to give them our proposals. I think the impact has been meaningful, but in Guatemala politics are always difficult.
After 2013, we realized that it wasn’t enough. We had to do more. That’s why we decided in 2014 to develop a bigger platform that would take us to the universities so we can work with youth who are currently studying. We also decided to go to the political parties and other departments in Guatemala (Zacapa and Quetzaltenango).
We developed a new campaign that we’ve launched this year giving us the chance to go to the five main political parties for the 2015 elections. We also met with congressmen that are our age but actively working in the government presenting different initiatives.
Also the reaction from the media was great, we went to the radio, and had interviews on national television.
Q: Can you talk about some of your recent events with youth?
A: In June, we had an event with over 100 young people discussing the importance of voting. Our second activity was more about discussing the weight of the congress in our political system. In our political system the congress has a lot of power, but because we only see the president we have it in our minds that he is responsible for everything. And last week we had a forum on why we have to get involved in these reforms.
In Zacapa and Quetzaltenango we had 100 and 50 youth respectively participating in these debates at the universities. What made me very happy and proud was that in April there was a big citizen movement against corruption in Guatemala. When the movement occurred, we, Colectivo Cincoen5, took it as our responsibility to participate. It was like a culmination of all our meetings.
For this election period we developed another strategy to be involved. In these events we stressed the need to have a development agenda for Guatemala, increase citizen participation and have the government respond to the citizens’ call to have the rules change.
Q: You mentioned the issue of corruption and the protests against corruption, but that is not one of the five areas Cincoen5 focuses on. Are there any plans to add anti-corruption to the list?
A: In 2013 corruption was just a part of our lives and we didn’t think that we could do anything about it. Maybe it can be included in the future, but I also think that corruption is something that exists in every single one of the five areas. Corruption goes through so many levels, that it would be very difficult to view it as a single problem that if we were to do a specific thing, corruption will be over. It’s something very complicated that involves many actors and the system allows it.
Q: Tell us about the hashtag #ProtagonistaNoEspectador (Protagonist, Not a Spectator).
A: After these citizen movements began, many youth that had never gotten involved in anything politics-related started getting involved. But, still, as part of our culture, we are indifferent. We don’t see the importance of participating, debating, or training ourselves on these subjects. So we came up with the idea of #ProtagonistaNoEspectador because it is based on the sense of not being on the outside of what is happening. It’s more about being and becoming a relevant actor.
Q: What have been the biggest achievements of Cincoen5?
A: First, I think the main achievement is having more than 1,000 youth participate in our activities. That means that all of these young people have had the chance to discuss, debate, dialogue, and learn about the importance of getting involved in politics.
Second, being able to go to the political parties this year. We got to meet with presidential candidates, give them our proposals, and show them that the youth are worried about their country and have developed strategies to help.
Third is realizing that the youth have a big responsibility. Assuming the responsibility to make this change, requires us to be ready. We have to realize we are protagonistas and not only espectadores of the change.
Q: What are the next steps?
A: After the elections, we will have new authorities. We want to show the new government that it will not be as easy as it was before. So we, from a positive and productive manner, have to show that we are diligent and that we are watching. We want to continue promoting this discussion in different spaces and hopefully we will see social conscience grow in more young people.
Q: Is there anything else you want to add?
A: This is something that is very difficult in Guatemala, to have the politicians make changes. So we face a lot of challenges. We’ve had both disappointments and very good moments. We want to believe that what we are doing now is sowing the seeds and that in the future we will get to see the fruits of our labor.
If you are interested in learning more about Cincoen5 and their activities, check out their Facebook page and Twitter account (@CINCOen5).
Dara Sanford is a Latin America & the Caribbean intern at CIPE.