Tim May writes in New Socialist about the recent demonstrations in Guatemala, including the recent Paro nacional and places the moment within a period of increasing grass-roots mobilisation. Indigenous authorities are increasingly finding their voice within national politics but still face opposition from the elites who control the national discourse, including through control of much of the national media. The challenges being faced are significant but not insurmountable. This is an interesting perspective, especially with a new paro nacional called for this weekend..
July was a volatile month in Guatemala, and this instability looks set to continue through August. Discontent had long been brewing over the government’s catastrophic mishandling of COVID. Back in November 2020, anti-government protestors set fire to Congress in anger over the lack of transparency in the distribution of hurricane relief funds and Covid-assistance. Endemic corruption has continually damaged Guatemala’s public services, leaving its poor Indigenous majority in a state of precarity. However, in times of crisis such colonial inequalities are brought into sharper relief. Even before the pandemic, the socio-economic position of Indigenous peoples was worsening, and COVID has only exacerbated this dire situation. Less than 2% of the population is vaccinated, and just as the pandemic is entering its worst stage, evidence of corruption emerged over President Giammattei’s procurement of the Sputnik V vaccine. Over the last week, public discontent erupted into massive protests throughout the country, calling both for Giammattei’s resignation, and the formation of a plurinational state. A ‘plurinational strike’ was called for the 29th July, and thousands of Indigenous people have taken to the streets and blocked major highways.
The spark for these protests was the sudden dismissal of Juan Francisco Sandoval, the head of FECI (Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity) – the country’s anti-corruption task force. He was leading an investigation into anomalies in the procurement of Sputnik V, and an incident involving the alleged delivering of bags of cash to Giammattei by an unidentified Russian businessmen. FECI had taken over from the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (known as CICIG), after it was terminated by the government in 2019. During its highly successful 12-year long operation, CICIG uncovered a string of corruption rings, including the notorious ‘La Linea’, which implicated the highest levels of government in 2015. As a direct result, former President Molina was jailed, and his government collapsed following some of the largest protests the country had ever seen.
The accelerating co-optation of the state by the ‘Pacto de Corruptos’ has pushed Guatemala to the edge of no return, and the dismissal of Sandoval signalled the removal of one of the country’s few remaining fragile protections. This explains the urgency of the current protests. Although protesters are tired of corruption, particularly that involving the vaccine rollout, this is not just another anti-corruption protest. Guatemala is at breaking point, and protesters are concerned with the dangerous direction the country is taking. Corruption is a barrier to a functioning state, but freeing it from co-optation is only the first step.
You can read the full piece, with links and photos, here, Is this Guatemala’s Plurinational Moment?
Categories: Corruption, Criminalisation, Environment, Genocide, Guatemala, Human Rights, Impunity, Indigenous peoples, Justice, Land, Military, Mining, Poverty, Resource Extraction, Solidarity in Action, Violence