Huehuetenango, the capital of the department of the same name, is the last major city on the Pan American Highway before the Mexican border. It is a bustling center of trade and commerce set in a landscape as diverse as its ethnic composition. While the Mam people make up the largest population there are eight other indigenous ethnic groups, all with their respective languages and traditions. This diversity is evident as groups of indigenous authorities walk together across the parking lot to participate in the dialogue. Each indidgenous authority brings their community’s history and priorities to the table illustrating the challenges that the Governments of Guatemala and the United States are facing in tackling the development issues of the Western Highlands.
La Ruta Hacia La Prosperidad, or La Ruta for short, is led by the National Competitiveness and Investment Promotion Commission (PRONOCOM) of the Guatemalan Government, and is supported by USAID, INL, and the Political and Economic sections of the U.S. Embassy. It is an initiative to create bridges between the central government and indigenous groups in the seven departments of the Western Highlands to address the low quality of Government services, high economic disparities and long standing social grievances. This, coupled with the fact that the Western Highlands suffers from the highest levels of irregular migration north, is the reason that USAID has a particular focus in the Western Highlands. USAID’s support of La Ruta also furthers Guatemala’s progress on the journey to self reliance as the Guatemalan Government is leading the initiative and responsible for identifying Guatemalan solutions to Guatemala’s challenges.
USAID’s work supports the Government of Guatemala and indigenous groups to participate in La Ruta in good faith, and though there are disagreements and differences between the two groups, the solutions lie in peaceful and constructive dialogue. Through the initiative, Pronocom and the U.S. Government aim to increase the quality of government services like building better roads and investing in potable water delivery systems, address social grievances, and improve the quality of life for indigenous populations in the Western Highlands.
USAID supports the government of Guatemala’s leadership in La Ruta Hacia La Prosperidad and recognizes that in order to achieve a secure and prosperous Guatemala, it will be up to the Guatemalan people to devise and implement local solutions to address the challenges facing their country. This will improve the quality of life for these communities and thus reduce the drivers that have caused unprecedented numbers of people to risk their lives by irregularly migrating to the United States.
The third dialogue began with an invocation to the Mayan gods; an invocation for a peaceful resolution to troubles that have long gone unaddressed. As the candles flickered in the cool morning air, there was a clear sense of tension, but there was also a sense of hope and commitment as these groups, that have historically been in conflict, continue to return to the table in order to confront and solve the challenges they face together.