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Indigenous Accord Signed

From Cerigua Weekly Briefs, no.13, 4 April 1995

Guatemala City, April 4. After five months of difficult talks on the issue, the government and Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) signed an accord on Indigenous Rights and Identity March 31 in Mexico City. Analysts have called the indigenous topic the most problematic and most important topic to be negotiated in peace talks to end Guatemala's 34-year civil war.

After a day-long meeting in Chimaltenango province April 3, more than 300 representatives of the Mayan People expressed their cautious acceptance of the agreement. Indigenous leaders from across the country, including Nobel Peace laureate Rigoberta Menchu, participated in the mass meeting of the Coalition of Organizations of the Mayan People (COPMAGUA), a broad front of nearly all Guatemalan groups representing Mayans.

"This accord doesn't necessarily fulfill all our aspirations and demands, but it's the minimum fruit of five centuries of resistance and three decades of armed internal conflict," stated COPMAGUA. "This accord is a minimum but significant step to strengthen the hope of the Mayan People."

Some of the main sticking points cited in drawn-out talks on the topic were constitutional recognition of the nation's indigenous peoples, legal recognition of their political and cultural rights, the proposed ratification of International Labor organization Covenant 169 dealing with indigenous rights, constitutional recognition of a Mayan People within Guatemalan territory, and official recognition of regional linguistic autonomy. In the signed accord, Mayans won on these points.

Other points were the legal recognition of Mayan forms of self-government, which was not as clearly granted in the accord, the return of communal lands to their historical owners, which was somewhat weakly pledged, and the official recognition of Mayan authorities, which was not explicitly included.

COPMAGUA pledged to disseminate the accord's contents and work to see that it is complied with. The main criticism of all accords signed so far has been that the government signs them but does not carry them out.

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