This paper discusses meaningful participation in the context of Guatemala's Popular Consultation in 1999. After decades of civil war, violence and military rule the idea was to hold a national consultation to reform the constitution, as a means of implementing the country's recent peace accords. This effort was severely hampered, however, by Guatemala's immense social, economic, cultural and linguistic differences, and by the limited rights of indigenous people. The author describes a flawed process in which the national referendum process was steered by political and economic elites, all in the name of participation. The paper highlights the weakness of a participatory policy process that does not include strong elements of popular education, communication, and consciousness raising, and that fails to create an agenda rooted in public awareness, common demands, and an organised political power.
International Institute for Environment and Development