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Project Philosophy

Ancient Site, Modern Town

19th Century: The Finca


Economic and Cultural Challenges

The Cooperative and
the Town Today

Cautions for Western Visitors

Employment and Other Needs

Tourism and Crafts

Development Goals



Chocolá: The Cooperative and the Town Today

For some 40 years after the expropriation of the German farm, the finca was run by the Guatemalan government, ostensibly for the purpose of agronomic experimentation. In 1982, the government sold the land back to the people of the town, who decided to create a cooperative, the Empresa Campesina Asociativa (ECA) Chocolá. In 1990, adjacent communities, until then part of the cooperative, opted to leave ECA Chocolá and form their own cooperatives; accordingly, today, there are three peasant farming communities in addition to Chocolá—La Ladrillera. Lolemí, and Madremía. All belong to the same municipality, the Municipio de San Pablo Jocopilas.

The cultural environment of Chocolá is mixed Maya (mostly K'iche', some Kaqchikel) and ladino, or Maya who have acculturated to Western dress and speak Spanish instead of Maya. Some 8,000 people live in the town. Very little English is spoken.

The template for a very Byzantine social organization must be said to be a traditional Maya one, albeit with a heavily syncretistic character. While Chocolá is a mixed Maya-ladino community, much that is culturally mysterious and hidden from Western visitors exists in the form of extensive and sophisticated governing entities, including “mayors” (two for Chocolá), district chiefs for the thirteen separate barrios or neighborhoods, various committees (water, vigilancia, a cofradia or religious directorate).

In addition, there are various informal sectors that operate with semi-autonomous power, including some thirty different rival evangelical churches. With somewhat stronger powers than these other social units, the administration of the cooperative, ECA Chocolá, consisting of a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and various lesser officials, oversees many of the activities that bind the community together as a great cooperative farm consisting of 774 individual farmers who cultivate their cosechas for sale through the cooperative.

Because of these various, inevitably competing power structures—and also because as soon as an individual, such as a new president of ECA, assumes an important office, he is regarded with suspicion (often accused, for example, of mislaying public funds)—a new administration of ECA is elected almost every year, contributing to a lack of stability in the community’s relationships (commercial, but others as well) with the rest of the world.

Worthy of note is that the Chocolenses do not consider themselves “Maya,” referring instead to the gente indígena as “people from the mountain”; these persons frequently come and go in Chocolá, conspicuous for their indigenous dress, including brown woolen skirts for the men and brightly colored huipiles and elaborate coiffures for the women.


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