CHICHE, Guatemala, Well before dawn, Indian men in cowboy hats and women in woven splashes of primary colors lined up in the village square, huddled against a highland chill. Shortly after the sun burned through mountain mist, their long wait culminated in votes to give Guatemala a civilian president after 15 years of direct or indirect military rule.

The Guatemalan voting has been cited abroad as a measure of movement toward representative government and away from the military leadership that has resulted in human rights violations here for decades. The candidate who comes out a winner after a probable runoff round Dec. 8 has been designated in advance as the country’s symbol of democracy.

More than half of the country’s 8 million citizens belong to Indian groups similar to those who voted here in the Quiche region, and most of them speak only unwritten Indian languages in which democracy does not exist even as a word. Silverio de Leon Lopez, a local legislative contender, said that he and other regional candidates define the meaning of elections in campaign speeches as “No more killing” or “We want to be free.”

This highlands region, about 75 miles northwest of the capital, witnessed some of the toughest repression against leftist guerrillas in 198082, and these words have found resonance among farmers and craftsmen.

Article extracted from this publication >>  November 8, 1985