April 29, 2020


The Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network (BTS) supports the efforts of Guatemalans struggling for political, social, and economic justice.  In the context of COVID-19 and the current state of emergency declared by the Guatemalan government, we are exceedingly alarmed by policies that benefit the private sector and politicians, while the majority of the population is suffering.  Echoing the deep concerns of our partners, we urge the Guatemalan government to respond to the needs of the population in a transparent manner in this time of dire need. In particular, we urge the Guatemalan government to:

1. Defend the interests of small-scale farmers;

2. Ensure the working class have access to basic necessities such as food, shelter and safety;

3. Uphold the rights of Indigenous communities to land and to free, prior and informed consent in regard to their territories;

4. Cease the criminalization of human rights and land defenders and guarantee their legal protection.

The response of the Guatemalan government through recent decrees approved by Congress in the face of the pandemic benefits and consolidates power among private industries.  Decree 12 (Emergency Law), purports to mitigate the impacts of the pandemic while guaranteeing millions of USD to increase salaries for current government officials.  Decrees 13 (Law of economic recovery for families due to effects relating to COVID-19) and 15 (Additional measures for the protection of the population due to the economic effects provoked by the COVID-19 pandemic) drastically fail to reach the wide majority of Guatemalans. While employees of the private industry benefit from emergency social support, nearly 70% of Guatemalans work in the informal sector and are thus ineligible. Furthermore, countless Guatemalans systemically lack the requirements to access the proposed benefits including valid or proper identification, bank accounts, or access to bank machines. 

The Guatemalan government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic  fails to provide basic necessities to the majority of the country’s population, burdens future generations with massive debt and gravely intensifies the vulnerabilities faced by communities as well as human rights and land defenders. Meanwhile, private interests benefit. 

Some concrete examples of the failure of the Guatemalan state to uphold human rights and front-line defenders include: 

– persistent attacks on and efforts to evict the communities of Dos Fuentes and Washington in Purulha, Baja Verapaz, allegedly perpetrated by private security of the Pananix company and the military;

– reports of continuous mining activity in El Estor despite the Constitutional Court’s order to halt operations; and 

– pressures by local and state officials to desist peaceful resistance to mining operations on Xinka territory while allowing Mina San Rafael to hand out groceries to communities in desperate need in exchange for their signatures and personal information

Furthermore, the designation of US$175 million for the Ministry of Interior towards the penitentiary system through Decree 16, places community leaders and land defenders at increased risk of criminalization. 

We share a collective struggle in the face of this global pandemic.  The commitment to justice and solidarity is a duty we must all take on knowing that history and memory will firmly remember the actions your government takes today to ensure the collective well-being of all of your citizens.


Janette Fecteau & Charlotte Connolly

On behalf of the Maritimes-Guatemala Breaking the Silence Network Community Council