January 14 was the inauguration of the new Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei. He is known as a hard-line right-wing conservative with a promise of more militarization in the country, against LGBTQ+ rights and in support of the death penalty. The new Congress was also sworn in that morning and new mayors take possession the next day.
January 14th was marked by protests against the outgoing president and Congress members, as civil society demanded that arrest warrants be executed against outgoing President Jimmy Morales. For a brief moment, Jimmy Morales lost immunity, in between handing over the presidency to Giammattei and his appointment to the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) where he regained immunity-only a matter of hours. Morales has a number of legal cases against him from his time as president, including misuse of public funds. Protestors blocked the entrance to the PARLACEN building, and the swearing-in ceremony was held in a Guatemala City hotel five hours late.
During the protest outside the hotel, police attacked protestors, poisoning human rights defenders with tear gas and injuring and arresting six students from San Carlos University. The students gave their First Declaration this morning and the presiding judge threw out the case and ordered the Public Prosecutor to investigate the abuse of authority by the Guatemalan police. The new government has stated that they were not aware of the incident and that an investigation into the violence used by police will take place.
BTS partners, the Highland Small Farmers Committee (CCDA) held a press conference this morning to express concern at the lack of consideration of the Giammattei government on the resolution of land conflicts. Leocadio Juracan, outgoing member of Congress and now advisor to the Winaq party shared his thoughts with BTS:
“As everyone knows, yesterday was an important day in Guatemalan politics, with the change of government and members of Congress. It is very important to note that the block which represents the right, the oligarchy, big business, has maintained control of Congress- those who have brought this country into misery, robbery of lands, and repression. Sadly, the Pact of the Corrupt, this criminal alliance, continues to advance in Guatemala, and yesterday they imposed an Executive Committee for Congress that will continue to respond to these interests.
In the case of the Executive Branch, we all know what they want is to prescribe themselves immunity to continue to act with impunity. Last night there was repression against protestors in front of the hotel for the inauguration of President Jimmy Morales and Vice President Jafeth Cabrera to guarantee them impunity. So this protest was met with the repression of various students. We condemn this, we reject this, and sadly, that is how this new government is starting out and it’s definitely a clear message of how [this government] will deal with social conflict.
So, we need to prepare ourselves and organize ourselves more to resist this wave of repression and criminalization than could come.
[The CCDA] are here because none of [Giammattei’s] plans include how to resolve agrarian conflicts. But they do include how to repress them- by strengthening the police and strengthening the army. So we condemn this- this is not the way to promote development. We are ready to continue protesting and pronouncing in support of human rights and the defense of territory.”
In addition, the Public Prosecutor issued arrest warrants for numerous public officials who lost immunity, as they were not reelected. Accusations focused on the traffic of influences. Unsurprisingly, 3 of the 4 functionaries are now on the run.
Then, on Friday, January 17, his third day in government, Giammattei declared a State of Prevention in the municipalities of Mixco and San Juan Sacatepequez. San Juan Sacatepequez has been the site of conflict since 2005, as Cementos Progresos installed a sand and gravel mine without consultation. The project was met with resistance from Kaqchikel communities affected by the project. As a result, community leaders have faced attacks and criminalization.
This is only one in a string of decisions by this government in its first three days in power: Giammattei has closed the Guatemalan Embassy in Venezuela and he also has sent an Advisory Opinion to the Constitutional Court on the International Labour Organization Agreement (ILO) 169 for the regulation on consultations to increase investment.
The fear of increased militarization with the government is quickly becoming a reality. BTS expresses our deep concern and the importance of continued solidarity with our partners.
As Leocadio has said, it is an important time to organize and prepare for the repression of this new government. Please stay tuned for ways to continue to support our partners.