Chuj - Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. Much of indigenous Guatemala is—or was until the late twentieth century involved with the cargo system, a ladder of alternating political and syncretic Catholic religious offices, through which participants earn esteem and contribute to the public life of the communities. This system was never fully developed in the Chuj region. The political offices exist, being set by Spanish rule, but the Catholic offices are undeveloped; the Chuj have no corresponding lexical items.

Factors involved in the weakening of the cargo system include the spread of Protestantism; Catholic Action's drive in the 1960s and 1970s (since reversed) opposing syncretism as impure; economic opportunities in some Guatemalan towns that made possible capital accumulation, and hence rewards outside the towns' cargo structures; and the revitalization of indigenous religious practices.

Political Organization. The municipal political offices are mayor, four bailiffs, and messengers. In San Sebastián, a council of elders meets to decide town policy, to adjudicate disputes, and to plan festivals. The elected officials serve as their executives. National political parties have a low profile in the communities, but suffrage is mandatory.

Social Control. Women are guardians of the social norm. When someone misbehaves in public, women scold them. When scolding and social ridicule cannot control actions or when disputes arise, the matter is taken to court. Each litigant pleads his or her own case. The judge delivers a harangue as his judgment; sometimes the process suffices to resolve the disputes; at other times, fines, jail terms, or services are demanded.

Since the 1970s, particularly the late 1970s, in response to increased guerrilla activity, the national military has made numerous incursions. Although there is no permanent garrison in Chuj territory, frequent field exercises are held and troops move through town centers, camping in marketplaces. The army has deforested areas along roads and major trails to monitor the transfer of people and goods. The local justice system can be circumvented by denouncing someone to the military.

Conflict. The mayor in San Mateo has control over the communal lands. Since the 1970s, mayors have been embroiled in scandals over their administration of these resources. Two mayors were removed from office after having signed contracts with lumber companies to harvest trees from còmmunal lands. A certain amount of profit taking, with preferential assignment of arable land and firewood rights, is expected of mayors, but mayors have overstepped their bounds. People point to the lack of expenditure for the public weal and for the town festival as the cause of social deterioration, decreased rainfall, unhealthy and/or infertile livestock and bad harvests.

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