When we organize to defend our territories and our rights, repression is unleashed and we are imprisoned or killed. That is why – concluded the indigenous leader – the mobilizations will continue until the people decide. Our bet is that we can all understand each other and unite around the struggle for structural changes and a plurinational state. Let the corrupt go and let’s change the system. Writes Giorgio Trucchi
Guatemala went up in flames again. During the last few weeks, thousands of people filled avenues and squares, took over roads and bridges, and paralyzed the road system in various parts of the country.
Three slogans were raised by the demonstrators: the resignation of President Alejandro Giammattei and Attorney General Consuelo Porras after the dismissal of anti-corruption prosecutor Juan Francisco Sandoval, an end to corruption and impunity, and the demand for a popular and plurinational constituent assembly.
Interviewed by international media, Sandoval explained that his job had begun to falter since the arrival of Consuelo Porras as attorney general. This was due to the work carried out by the Special Prosecutor’s Office against impunity (Feci) and in conjunction with the dissolved International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).
In practice, he said that progress was being made in the investigation of people very close to the presidential circle, for crimes of corruption and for the alleged manipulation of the process of electing new high court judges.
Just as in November last year, when the Guatemalan people staged mass protests against the approval of a national budget that cut social spending and benefited “business as usual”, and the executive’s inability to cope with the pandemic and the impact of two hurricanes, Guatemala stopped and said ‘enough is enough’ to a corrupt and predatory system and model.
“There has been a great response from the people, from organized communities in resistance and other collectives, who have come out to demonstrate in different parts of the country,” said Leiria Vay García, a member of the political leadership of the Peasant Development Committee (Codeca).
“We have been saying it for a long time: in Guatemala we live without rights and with a state that does not respond to the interests of the population, but to those of the economic groups.
This situation – he continued – has generated a great deal of discontent that has led to huge demonstrations. But it is not just a question of being indignant about a specific problem, such as the budget or the dismissal of the public prosecutor.
Codeca reflects that the resignation of a president, a minister or a prosecutor does not change anything. We saw this in 2015 with the resignation and imprisonment of Otto Pérez and Roxana Baldetti. Six years later we are back on the streets protesting and getting indignant about the same issues.
We therefore believe,” explained the indigenous leader, “that the resignations and prosecution of the corrupt must be accompanied by structural changes. We want a plurinational state built by the peoples and sectors that have historically been excluded.
Guatemala and exclusion
According to the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC), in Guatemala 60% of the population lives in poverty (almost 10 million) and 22% in extreme poverty (3.6 million). These figures soar in rural areas and indigenous communities where poverty reaches 80% of the population (household survey 2020).
In Guatemala, one out of every two children suffer from chronic malnutrition. It ranks first in Latin America and sixth in the world in terms of child malnutrition (Unicef).
Only one fifth of the population has access to safe drinking water. The few sources of clean water in rural communities are being captured by entrepreneurs implementing extractive projects.
The health system has collapsed and, a year and a half into the health crisis, the government has only been able to vaccinate 14 per cent of the population with one dose and only 2 per cent have completed the vaccination schedule.
Meanwhile, concessions granted to national and transnational companies for mining and oil exploration and exploitation and energy projects are multiplying, while agro-industrial monocultures are expanding unchecked, expelling communities and monopolizing territories.
The resistance and denunciations of human rights, land and common goods defenders are increasingly leading to persecution, repression, criminalization, prosecution and death.
The more repression, the more struggle
According to the most recent reports by Front Line Defenders and Global Witness, Guatemala in 2019 was among the most dangerous countries for those defending land and the commons, and the most dangerous in terms of killings of defenders per capita. It is also the nation with the highest increase in killings of defenders compared to the previous year (2018).
According to data from the Guatemalan Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (Udefegua), between January and 15 December 2020, which corresponds to the first year of President Giammattei’s mandate, 1004 cases of aggressions, 15 murders and 22 attempted murders against human rights defenders were registered in Guatemala.
These figures, says Udefegua, show “the lack of will of the state to guarantee that those who defend human rights can do so in conditions of freedom and security”.
“Those who now have control of the Public Prosecutor’s Office do not answer to the justice system, nor to the people, but to that group of corrupt people who have always had control of state power. And there is another factor.
Contrary to the official anti-corruption discourse that they insistently proclaim,” explains Leiria Vay, “the United States does not look favorably on structural changes in countries like Guatemala.
They pretend to support the fight against corruption and the imprisonment of some officials, giving it media coverage and prominence to make it appear that the problem has been solved, but they remain silent in the face of acts of corruption by those who hold economic power in the country.
We cannot be satisfied with this,” he said. The people need to organise themselves, to articulate themselves. The struggle that needs to be waged and the challenge ahead of us is for a change of system and power structure.
For years, Codeca, as well as other organizations committed to the resistance struggle, have been systematically attacked by presidents and public officials. Twenty Codeca activists and leaders have been assassinated in the last two years.
Last year, in the midst of a health emergency and a state of siege, the extractivist transnationals continued to work as if nothing was happening. So did the repressive apparatus, which continued to attack, repress and assassinate human rights defenders. In 2020, Codeca registered 166 cases of repression involving at least 662 victims nationwide.
“We organizations are suffering constant aggression. There is a prosecutor’s office, with an ever-increasing budget, that is dedicated to prosecuting and criminalizing, while the army and police are dedicated solely to protecting and defending the interests of transnational companies and attacking those of us who fight against these projects,” warned Vay.
200 years of what?
This year, Central America celebrates 200 years of independence. Indigenous peoples (and not only indigenous peoples) say there is nothing to celebrate.
“For us it is 200 years of increased looting, repression, racism, exclusion, over-exploitation, poverty and death. In our territories they continue to grab land, plunder common goods, exploit workers, and impoverish communities. All in the name of development.
When we organize to defend our territories and our rights, repression is unleashed and we are imprisoned or killed. That is why – concluded the indigenous leader – the mobilizations will continue until the people decide.
Our bet is that we can all understand each other and unite around the struggle for structural changes and a plurinational state. Let the corrupt go and let’s change the system.
End of First Part
Giorgio Trucchi, journalist, based in Central America since 1998, is a correspondent for the IUF Rel Agency and collaborates with different international media, including Alba Sud, ALAI, Rebelión, Kaos en la Red, Peacelink. He has also collaborated with the digital newspaper Opera Mundi of Sao Paulo in Brazil and coordinates the news blog and the informative list “Nicaragua y más” (LINyM). In 2005 and 2009 he received the Human Rights Award for Journalism, awarded by the Movement for Justice and Human Rights (MJDH) of Brazil, for the coverage: the struggle of former banana workers in Nicaragua affected by the pesticide Nemagón and the coup d’état in Honduras.
Republished under content sharing arrangement with Pressenza
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