Academic journal article Human Organization

Are Artesanal Cooperatives in Guatemala Unraveling?

Academic journal article Human Organization

Are Artesanal Cooperatives in Guatemala Unraveling?

Article excerpt

Cooperatives are often instituted to increase socioeconomic opportunities for rural people. While this goal may be achieved in some countries, the specific historical and structural circumstances of the Guatemalan cooperative system contradict this statement. The entrance of cooperatives into the world market system and a change to a mass-marketing climate has altered relations of distribution and production. In particular, traditionally female-organized cooperatives and industries, such as for weaving, have been especially hard hit by these changes. This paper reports the findings from a four-month study of three artesanal cooperatives in highland Guatemala and of the Guatemalan cooperative structure. These findings indicate that the adoption of federations of cooperatives to increase production for a world market has negatively altered the entire artesanal industry and has adversely affected the socioeconomic activities of the small-business weaver.

Key words: cooperatives, Guatemala, women's issues, economic development

Guatemala's artesanal cooperatives face a questionable future. The prospect for their continued existence in a cash economy appears grim. Current national and global economies discount handiwork in favor of industrialization and standardization. As well, fluctuating international demands for traditional handicrafts make a very unstable market for such goods. Nevertheless, Guatemala has a strong tradition of cooperative organization with an extensive and complex bureaucratic infrastructure providing support. Additionally, cooperative enterprises are often targeted for support by foreign aid organizations. Crucial to an understanding of artesanal cooperatives in Guatemala is the recognition of the role of the Federation of Artesanal Cooperatives, ARTEXCO, and the place it occupies within the Confederation of Federated Cooperatives. This article uses data derived from a 1993 study of weaving cooperatives in highland Guatemala to illustrate and discuss the situation (Olson 1993).

Many recent economic and social changes experienced by Guatemalans are linked to the rapid growth of the modern world economy and subsequent economic downturns (Blim 1992). During the world recession of the 1980s, a depressed market for export crops had negative consequences for all of Latin America, but especially for Guatemala, where agricultural production remained the mainstay of its economy (Knudson and Weil 1988:25). In the same decade, Guatemala's economy was further stressed by massive expenditures on military counterinsurgency which drained its national treasury, eventually deflated the value of the quetzal internationally, and caused a serious inflationary crisis internally (Ehlers 1990:160). During the global recession in the 1980s, unemployment, inflation, and cutbacks in education and health services had extreme consequences for the poorest of the poor throughout the world. Poor women and children had been, and continue to be, the groups most adversely affected by this world phenomenon (Black 1988; Bossen 1984; Ehlers 1990; Levy 1988; Momson and Townsend 1987; Pallis 1980; Stamm 1984; Staudt 1990). The domestic economy of Guatemalan women was specifically hard hit by the recession and accompanying inflation rates1 (Knudson and Weil 1988:25). Bossen (1984:2) suggests that the economic decline of the informal economy has increased gender inequality, transforming women into dependent burdens who have to rely more heavily upon men for their economic security. Continuously rising prices have forced women to recalculate strategies to fulfill their domestic needs. Under such circumstances, it is no surprise that development organizations, local community leaders, and women weavers have turned toward cooperatives as a logical vehicle for increasing women's power and income.

This essay presents the history of cooperative participation in Guatemala, the structure of Guatemala's cooperative system, and the effects of large federations on individual cooperatives. …

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