Thousands of Guatemalans have been on an indefinite national strike to reject the moves by the Attorney General’s office and the Courts to undermine the results of the August presidential elections and prevent president-elect Bernardo Arévalo from taking office in January. The mostly Indigenous protesters have been blocking highways and mobilizing in cities across the country. Some delegations marched from the rural regions of the country to the capital city to hold a sit-in outside the Attorney General’s office where they have been joined by students, street and market vendors, and other progressive organizations.
Guatemala is facing one of its most critical political crises in the last three decades following the surprise victory of progressive anti-corruption presidential candidate Bernardo Arévalo on Aug. 20. The crisis stems from what many Guatemalans see as an attempt by officials accused of corruption to undermine and cast doubt on the legitimacy of the results of the country’s democratic process in order to protect their interests. In response, citizens and social movements have mobilized to defend the Central American country’s democracy as public officials attempt to undermine the will of the people.
Campaigning began in earnest last month for Guatemala’s general elections, with political messaging filling the streets, local broadcasts and social media. But less than three months before the June 25 vote, concerns are mounting among national and international observers over the integrity of the process. At least 30 political parties are set to contest the upcoming elections, with more than 22,000 candidates registered to run for the presidency, congress, regional parliament and councils across the country. But Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which governs elections, has blocked several opposition candidates from running on “dubious grounds."
Hundreds of activists from across Guatemala walked along the shores of the majestic Lake Atitlán in the country’s western highlands in commemoration of World Water Day on March 22. In their hands they carried white flowers, which they left floating along the shores as an offering. The ceremony was held as part of the regional meeting of water activists to mark the international day meant to bring awareness to the water crisis around the world. This meeting was hosted by the local collective Comunidad Tz’unun Ya’, which has become one of the most active water rights defenders in the Central American country.
Guatemala’s notoriously corrupt right-wing government has blocked a prominent leftist Indigenous leader from running in the June 2023 presidential election, in a move that international observers have condemned as an “electoral coup”. Nearly half of Guatemalans (44%) identify as Indigenous. The Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP) is a left-wing party that was created to represent the First Nations who have for so long been ignored by Guatemala’s political system. The MLP is led by Thelma Cabrera, a social movement activist and human rights defender from the Maya Mam community. She has pledged to fight poverty in Guatemala (one of the poorest countries in the region), resist neoliberalism, and establish a plurinational state that gives full rights to Indigenous nations, like Bolivia. The newly created MLP party ran for the first time in the 2019 presidential election.
The vibrant colors of the Indigenous weavings from Guatemala that appear on the traditional blouses known as huipiles, skirts and other items hold a deep symbolic meaning for communities across the Central American country, but they are also deeply intertwined with the promotion of tourism in Guatemala. The intricate designs greet tourists in promotional material at the airport, and companies and non-government organizations have sought to capitalize on the designs. For the last six years, Indigenous women have sought to challenge the exploitation of their sacred designs through the promotion of legislation that would protect their collective intellectual property rights. On Sept. 5, the Women’s Association for the Development of Sacatepéquez, or AFEDES, and the weavers of the Ruchajixik Ri Qana’ojbäl **movement, which means Guardians of Our Knowledge in the Kaqchikel language, presented their latest proposal for a law that would protect their weavings.
The Mayan Council Chilam B'alam of the K'iches, the Mayan Council Komon Ajq'ijab', the National Coordinator of the Territories of Life Network (Coordinadora Nacional Red Territories de Vida), the National Ajq'ijab' Council "Oxlajuj Ajpop," and the International Indian Treaty Council (IITC), inform the national and international communities that on May 4th, 2022 they presented a communication requesting urgent action by the United Nations Special Rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD) Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedure.
In Central America, as in many other parts of the world today, communities are being thrust into life and death struggles up against powerful interests to ensure clean water and health for their future generations. This is often the case where mining companies seek to dig up gold, silver, iron ore or other metals and minerals, disrupting or destroying precious water supplies in the process, and leaving behind massive quantities of toxic waste on the land. With national and international laws designed to privilege such harmful activities in the name of so-called development and progress, it is vital to celebrate the milestones of people fighting against all odds to protect their lives and lands from such threats.
The Ontario-based Aamjiwnaang nation is surrounded on all sides by petrochemical facilities, and members had long suspected that the facilities in “Chemical Valley” had exposed them to potentially dangerous chemicals. The data, which had been held secret for many years, was disclosed by the environment ministry following questions from Global News. The Aamjiwnaang people, situated along the Michigan border, think that the government of Ontario has been disrespectful by withholding the data from them. “This is just the continuation of the Canadian legacy of putting Indigenous people, people of color, at a lower place,” Janelle Nahmabin, also known as Red Cloud Woman and chair of Aamjiwnaang’s environment committee, told Global News.
During her recent visit to Guatemala, Vice President Kamala Harris delivered a frank message to Central Americans hoping to find refuge in the United States. “I want to be clear to folks in this region who are thinking about making that dangerous trek to the United States-Mexico border,” she said at a press conference with Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei on June 7. “Do not come. Do not come. The United States will continue to enforce our laws and secure our border.” Harris’s comments drew criticism from organizations advocating for asylum seekers. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D‑N.Y.) wrote on Twitter that seeking asylum at the U.S. border is “100% legal” and called on the United States to “finally acknowledge its contributions to destabilization and régime change in the region.”
Vice President Kamala Harris is traveling to Guatemala this week to discuss solutions to the poverty, violence, and corruption that are among the driving forces of migration. Contributing to these drivers are neoliberal arrangements, such as the Central America–Dominican Republic Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA-DR), which have been imposed on Guatemalans. This framework favors the development of large-scale mining and energy projects that are devastating to the well-being of rural communities and Indigenous peoples, while allowing private corporations to sue governments over hard-fought social and environmental protections. Case in point: A Nevada-based mining company is suing the Guatemalan government for over $400 million, claiming violations of investor protections in the CAFTA.
Guatemala City, Guatemala – Guatemalans have returned to protest across the country for the second Saturday in a row, as discontent with President Alejandro Giammattei and his government continues. More than 2,000 people gathered in Guatemala City’s central plaza to demand the resignation of Giammattei and congressional representatives who had approved the country’s controversial 2021 budget. “We are demanding that they respect our rights and that all those corrupt politicians in Congress leave,” Maria Fernanda Saldana, a 22-year-old university student...