The road to Nebaj winds northwest from Guatemala City into the Ixil Triangle area of Guatemala – a mostly rural area known for the diversity of indigenous communities which have maintained their customs and their language. The Ixil region endured the brunt of the civil war struggles and targeting by the Guatemalan army in the 1980s. General Otto Pérez Molina’s was the officer in command at the time.
It seemed fitting that one day before Guatemala’s September 11 election, when Pérez Molina had the lead in the presidential polls with almost 40 percent of voters supporting him, to be headed there with a box of cameras, pencils, and reporting notebooks for young reporters to use. We didn’t know how safe it would be for them to report--or for us for that matter--but this much was clear: we were going to be there to help them.
We climbed the steep slopes into the foothills of the Sierra de los Cuchumatanes where the rains had caused avalanches of red rock into the now paved road that would eventually drop into Nebaj. Sometimes it was two-lane and then for long stretches it was a one-lane road, where the tailback would hang back on the narrow road as we waited for the incoming traffic to pass. Every car was now a truck or double traction vehicle loaded with sheep or cows, cinder blocks, lumber, held together by makeshift rope, passengers standing on their feet, colorful traje (indigenous clothing) that blended with the lush green and red rock landscape.
(Photos by Caroline Trutman and Kara Andrade)
The thick fog set in when we made it across the mountain and the mist slowed our tracks. The descent into the bustling, dusty community of Nebaj that doesn’t have a single traffic light, was more like a landing since the town emerged out of the white haze of green and cloud.
In Nebaj we would meet with a small group of young reporters we had just trained two weeks earlier and prepare them for covering the elections in seven different villages. It was a small group of four at first and then it grew to twelve who came from remote communities like Chajul and Santa Clara, Xix, Chel, places where buses stopped running at 4 in the afternoon and where the asphalt quickly ended.
They had already been using their Flip video cameras to interview mayoral candidates, community leaders, voters and and fellow youth about the election. They did interviews not only in Spanish, but in their own Maya languages, which predominate in this region. Without these critical language skills, the voices of most people in this region could not be heard.
The Vozz reporters in the Ixil region were not the only ones gathering voices and opinions in places where their unique credibility as locals gave them unparalleled access and trust with their subjects. Across the country on the eastern coast in Zacapa, north into Izabal, and far north into the jungles of Libertad, Peten, young people were using their cameras to document political rallies, signs, jingles and to record one-on-one interviews with presidential candidates such as Nobel Peace Prize-winner Rigoberta Menchu.
If the Ixil triangle stands as a testament to human resiliency in the face of past violence, Peten hints at an insidious future. La Libertad is the site of a recent massacre by the Mexican drug cartel Loz Zetas, where 26 ranch workers were decapitated and threatening messages were left in blood.
Young reporters with the Vozz project are poised to document voices that are rarely heard about news events of international importance. Our reporting and training work continues and so does the commitment of the Vozz youth. There was no stopping their reporting during and after the presidential election completed its first round. On the morning of September 12, it was declared there would be a run-off for the presidential race and the final voting would be November 6.
In this post we share with you a summary of the main stories from the September 11 election, but you can see them yourself here (in three languages no less!) and other additional stories on our YouTube channel.
Chajul Turns Out To Vote
The community of Chajul in Guatemala's Ixil Triangle goes to the polls on September 11, 2011.
The city of Zacapa is not much different to other communities in Guatemala, with excessive propaganda that politicians put up during each electoral period. At this time only one mayor in Zacapa is interested in not contaminating the city with excessive publicity, using only six billboards that are completely mobile and can be removed and cleaned without a problem.
Interview With Faustino Sarceño from Frente Amplio
Interview with the nominated candidate for the Frente Amplio party in the municipality of Santa Ana, Péten, where he chatted with the youth of the Vozz project who were interviewing each candidate and we graciously thank him for the respect he paid us.
Opinions, La Libertad Sayaxché, Petén
A vox pop set of interviews expressing opinions from Péten one week before the September 11, 2011 national election in Guatemala.
Polling Station In Bad Condition
The elections left much to be desired for the population of Izabal, especially the poor condition of the buildings used as polling stations. Citizens had to wait in long lines, as usual, in an unsuitable environment due to the recent heavy rains in Izabal.
Interview With Mr. Eliseo Salguero "Cheyo"
An interview with long-time civic leader, Mr. Eliseo Salguero, candidate for the civic committee "El Zapato."
Thank you for your support!
Nadia and Kara
Excellent summary, beautiful photos and great video really capture what the election is like in rural Guatemala. The interviews are good, the subjects fascinating and the one in Chajul of the community going to vote, shows how polarized the election was. They were all supporting a party without a presidential candidate! Roll on round two and phase two!