Guatemalans are entering a fifth week of a national strike, with hundreds of thousands across the country taking to the streets in an effort to uphold the most basic tenets of democracy.
Progressive presidential candidate Bernardo Arévalo resoundingly won August’s national election, but his future as the next president of Guatemala is being challenged. Arévalo ran on an anti-corruption platform promising to repair and restore key democratic institutions capable of curbing rampant corruption that have been gutted under current President Alejandro Giammattei. Now, Attorney General Consuelo Porras – whose office only a decade ago under different leadership successfully prosecuted a former dictator for genocide – is leading the charge to overturn the election results and prevent the peaceful transfer of power set for January 14, 2024.
Attorney General Consuelo Porras is using a corrupt judiciary to issue rulings aimed at stripping Arévalo’s Semilla Party of its legal status, initiate criminal proceedings against those involved in the electoral process, and undermine the results of the 2023 general election. In September, she ordered a raid on the offices of the Supreme Electoral authority (Guatemala’s top body overseeing elections), where prosecutors illegally took possession of sensitive election materials – a move denounced by the Organization of American States who, alongside many other international observers, deemed the election to be free and fair. On October 31, the Supreme Electoral authority officially closed the election season, marking the results official.
An alliance of Indigenous authorities from across the country, led by the 48 Cantones of Totonicapán, the Indigenous Mayoralty of Sololá, and the Xinka Parliament, among others, called an indefinite national strike on October 2 to respond to these attacks on democracy. The strike has the backing of unions, students, farmers, medical professionals, human rights organizations, and many others from civil society, all united in their call for the election results to be respected and for the immediate resignation or removal of Attorney General Porras, Rafael Curruchiche (head of the Office of the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity - FECI), Cinthia Monterroso (prosecutor with FECI), and Judge Fredy Orellana.
Strike organizers are clear that the protests are not in support of any one political party, but are rather in defense of democracy itself and the right to self-determination.
Guatemala has undergone a strong authoritarian regression over the last four years. Guatemala’s judiciary has been transformed, now stacked with judges and prosecutors more focused on criminalizing those who speak out against corruption than reigning it in. Supreme Court justices are now several years beyond their term limit, a situation that many from civil society say is undermining democracy. According to Amnesty International, “about 60 prosecutors, judges, magistrates, journalists, communicators and human rights defenders have had to leave the country due to the number of unfounded prosecutions they face because of their participation in the fight against impunity and corruption in the country.” Journalists are being jailed and efforts to criminalize social protest are mounting.
#GuateResiste ✊🏽Ha llegado el momento de sacar a los corruptos
"No solo se roban el dinero del pueblo, se roban nuestros ríos, se roban los lagos y ahora se están robando las elecciones", dijo @BernardoCaal2 ex preso político por defender el río Cahabón de Alta Verapaz, ante una… pic.twitter.com/ZPY8QKHz3z
— Prensa Comunitaria Km169 (@PrensaComunitar) October 13, 2023
Tweet above: Bernardo Caal, a political prisoner who spent 7 years in jail for defending the Cahabón River from hydroelectric dams speaks to a crowd outside the Public Prosecutor’s office, saying “First they take our money, then our rivers and lakes, now they’re trying to steal our elections.”
Among strike organizers is the Xinka Parliament, who is also in the midst of a court-ordered consultation on the Canadian-owned Escobal mine (for more see below). Xinka Parliament President Aleisar Arana said in a recent interview with El Faro that while the primary objective of the national strike it to achieve the resignation of Attorney General Porras and others, the strike surfaces broader issues around dignity and respect for self-determination: “An important right for us is the right to consultation [prior to the approval of mining projects]. We have to consult any decision with our people and carry out what the population communicates to us. In our culture, this is the fundamental principle of guiding by obedience.”
Attacks against protestors are growing. On October 28, 2023, Noe Gómez – a Xinka leader, human rights defender, and active participant in the pro-democracy protests – was killed. The Xinka Parliament is denouncing his murder and calling for an investigation.
Attorney General Consuelo Porras is also doing her part to increase risk for protestors, calling the national strike illegal and urging the national police to use force to remove protestors. In August, the Interamerican Human Rights Commission issued precautionary measures for president-elect Bernardo Arévalo and vice-president-elect Karin Herrera Aguilar, calling for the State to protect their rights to life and personal integrity following the publication of assassination plans. Amnesty International has issued an urgent action, denouncing that “the government and the Constitutional Court have issued statements and decisions that jeopardize the right to peaceful protest and could lead to the use of force against demonstrators” and urging the Guatemalan authorities to guarantee the right of peaceful assembly.
For more information:
- Amnesty International Canada calls for protection of the right to protest in Guatemala
- Articles | El Faro, “While under Threat, Electoral Tribunal Considers Protecting Semilla until Inauguration,” Al Jazeera “Guatemala’s Indigenous leaders take to the streets in nationwide protests”
- NISGUA | 10 points to understand the political crisis and national strike in Guatemala
WAYS TO TAKE ACTION:
Donations to the Peaceful Resistance
Longstanding efforts to protect land and exert self-determination continue, even as this historic strike to protect democracy pulls attention and focus. Members of the Peaceful Resistance of Jalapa, Jutiapa and Santa Rosa have been actively joining the national strike at the time time as they organize to maintain two encampments on either side of the Canadian-owned Escobal mine in southeastern Guatemala – encampments they’ve kept up 24 hours a day, seven days a week since 2017 to prevent mining operations without their consent.
While a 2017 Constitutional Court order suspended operations at the Escobal mine (owned by Pan American Silver since 2019 when the Canadian company acquired Tahoe Resources), it was the encampments that first succeeded in stopping operations. The camps are powerful, visual proof of the widespread opposition to the Escobal mine and continue to be a strategic point for grassroots organizing. The Resistencia is under increasing pressure and is raising funds that can be used to more readily address emergency situations that arise.
→ Donate to their Emergency Support Fund, making sure to put “Peaceful Resistance” in the notes section for the donation.
Write to the Canadian Embassy
While the Canadian Embassy has denounced on social media the September raid on the TSE office and has made general calls for the respect of democratic norms, it has been largely silent in the face of such extreme attacks on democracy. MiningWatch’s close ally, the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network, is urging people to write to the Canadian Embassy to demand a stronger response and sanctions against actors threatening democracy in the country. Amnesty International has also issued an urgent action in an effort to protect the rights of Guatemalans to peacefully protest. Please sign on and share with your networks.