“It is important to guarantee access to information in general, because it is of benefit to the youth, local companies and tourism.”
– Tomás Chiviliú, mayor of Santiago Atitlan
The Mayan Tzutuhil indigenous people of Guatamala’s Highlands have had an unhappy history of contact with the outside world. The Spanish conquests in the 16th century led to 500 years of marginalization and exploitation, and the bloody civil war fought between 1960 to 1996 saw tens of thousands of Maya massacred by government troops and paramilitaries.
In contrast to the violence that has marked the region’s history, the arrival of digital technology and the internet didn’t cause much of a disruption to the Tzutuhil way of life. In small villages and neighbourhoods where sharing, collaboration, and open discourse about community issues have always been part of the social fabric, the new technologies were quickly assimilated.
In a remarkably short space of time, access to information and digital communication has become integral to the region’s economic, political, and social progress. Young people in the area wasted no time in using social media to talk to each other and the outside world. The main town of Santiago Atitlan may be one of the poorest in Central America, but it maintains very active Facebook and Twitter accounts and operates its own website, which serves as a gateway for information about local arts and crafts, history, social projects, and festivals. As the community is still recovering the devastating mudslides caused by hurricane Stan in 2005, a link on the page encourages visitors to donate directly to reconstruction initiatives.
Thanks to these exciting possibilities, the internet has become so important that local authorities recently declared internet access to be a human right. To make this declaration a reality, the government is rolling out free Wi-Fi across the region—a major challenge given its precipitous jungle terrain.
With the first phase of the project now complete, we can look forward to even more Tzutuhil people coming online in the near future.