Guatemalan flag-flipped & croppedBy Este Chep, BTS Lead Cooperant

Guatemalans headed to the polls for the second round of national elections on August 11, 2019 where Alejandro Giammattei of the newly founded VAMOS (“Lets Go”) conservative party received the majority of the votes to become the next president-elect set to take office on January 14, 2020. Giammattei was Director of the Guatemalan Penitentiary System from 2006-2008, a period during which he was implicated in the military-take of a prison that left seven inmates dead.  In 2010 under investigation by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a United Nations’ specially appointed body, he was accused of the extrajudicial execution of those seven inmates, whose bodies showed signs of torture and close-range gunshot wounds.  After serving time for 10 months, Giammattei was absolved of all charges due to supposed lack of evidence against him.

His election victory comes after the 4th attempt running for office, each time under a different party. Under Giammattei’s leadership, VAMOS positioned itself as a center-right party vowing to implement the death penalty, tackle the problem of poverty and migration, institute the use of the military for civil order, as well as take firm stands against abortion and same-sex marriage.  During his campaign he also affirmed the expulsion of the CICIG stating that his party would not renew their mandate to operate in the country. The CICIG was effectively dissolved on September 3, making clear the policies of rampant institutional and governmental corruption and impunity that are to come under this new office.  For this reason it is perhaps ironic that the party also branded itself under the motto “For a Different Guatemala.”

A recently released report by the UK-based environmental watchdog Global Witness identifies Guatemala as having the highest per capita murder rate of land defenders in the world.  The consolidation of power embodied through these election results by old vanguard businessmen, the military, and narco-economies increase the risk of Guatemala dangerously progressing further down a path of militarization, repression, criminalization and murder of human rights and land defenders.

Upon taking office, Giammattei and VAMOS will control 10% of the seats in congress and nearly another 10% of city halls across the country. We will continue to observe the human rights situation in Guatemala heading into this new political reality and engage in solidarity with the people of Guatemala