On November 25th at Capilano University in North Vancouver, British Columbia. Ignacio Ochoa, the Director of Fundacion Nahual, gave an enlightening lecture entitled Building Democracy A Day At A Time, The Politics of Disaster Relief in Guatemala. After a brief introduction describing Guatemala’s horrific war torn past, which included 36 years of internal war, the meddling of the CIA, imposition of American Foreign Policy initiatives, and the guerrilla insurgencies which swept through Guatemala and much of Latin America beginning in the early 1960’s. It was following Ochoa’s telling of this tumultuous history that his assistant flipped to a slide revealing a picture that was meant to metaphorically represent the unraveling of the social fabric in Guatemala and its dire necessity for repair. At this point Ochoa introduced the main strategy of Fundacion Nahual and how they are implementing change in Guatemala at present.
Ochoa uses one word to describe this force of change; COCODE. He explains that COCODE stands for Community Council Development. COCODE a tool used by Fundacion Nahual to help educate and organize at the grass roots levels of Government. It provides the people in villages and municipalities that have little to no Governmental structure with the tools to organize; and just like the title of the lecture states; Fundacion Nahual is trying to ‘build democracy a day at a time.’
Three days Prior to Tropical Storm Agatha on May 28th, Volcano Pacaya erupted and left the people in surrounding villages with disaster after disaster to deal with. Ignacio says, “One of the nearby villages were forming the COCODE and were discussing what to do the night before. Some of the NGO’s were calling me and they were saying, Ignacio…thank you for organizing this particular village because it was easy for us when we went there. The people were already organized.”
Unfortunately, San Miguel Escobar, the neighboring city was in chaos, states Ochoa. “We talked to the Mayor and there was no COCODE there.” At this point, Fundacion Nahual began to work with the Mayor, the community leaders, and local NGO representatives to begin to organize both COCODE’s and weekly meetings in San Miguel Escobar.
Ignacio Ochoa illustrated the benefits of COCODE as a model that not only provides benefits to the local community but to the NGO’s that have been providing assistance in Guatemala for many years. COCODE provides leadership roles for its community that can be made up of both local people and representatives of NGO’s. At present, Ignacio Ochoa is currently working with 16 municipalities in Guatemala and is diligently expanding Fundacion Nahual’s efforts.
For more information on Fundacion Nahual you can check out their website at www.fundacion-nahual.org.