A suspension bridge in the jungle of GuatemalaWritten by Este

Guatemala’s dry season is once again coming to an end, making way for the rains that will spring forward another cycle of crops, life, and resistance.  As we have reported in previous weeks through updates on the top stories making the news in Guatemala, major concerns swirl around the current context of Covid-19 and its long-term implications, as well as the swearing-in of new magistrates to the Constitutional Court (CC) and the horizons this paints for human rights and land defenders.  Beyond the national confines, migration continues to be a critical issue for Guatemalans and one in which foreign policy agendas play a heavy hand in future landscapes for the land and for human mobility.  These pressing issues facing Guatemala, along with the national and international responses to them, reveal a political and economic matrix steering deeper towards increased violence and repression for the most marginalized. Under this climate, the safety and well-being of those working to uphold human rights, land defenders, community leaders, women denouncing gender-based violence, and tens of thousands being forced to migrate, are increasingly at risk

Congress blocking Gloria Porrias’ appointment to the CC represents a major setback for upholding an impartial justice system to tackle impunity and uphold the rights of Indigenous Peoples.  As Guatemala’s  highest, and only truly independent legal body , the CC has the legislative power to uphold the law and protect the right to constitution, so the swearing in of CC magistrates has strong implications for the country’s justice system and the protection of a working democracy.  Porras is not the first magistrate known for challenging impunity, favouring the rights of Indigenous Peoples, and subsequently being forced into exile.  She joins the ranks of Thelma Aldana and Claudia Paz y Paz in this fate.  The rejection of her appointment has been denounced by local and international civil society and is seen as a strategy to clear the way for a new roster of magistrates made up of characters with dubious records in support of human rights, land defenders, and transitional justice.  As the backdrop to the rising tensions and various forms of resistance witnessed in Guatemala over the last year, the new composition of the CC embodies a consolidation of power aligned with the ‘Pact of the Corrupt’ and signals challenging and worrisome obstacles for justice in Guatemala in the years to come.

While Covid-19 has exposed deep inequalities that have long been normalized and justified globally, the last year compounded the brutal economic and social realities in Guatemala. Migrating north has been one of the only recourses for survival left to many.  Despite this, national and international responses to this crisis have seen policies aimed at deterring out-migration, including issuing emergency decrees to violently crack-down on migrant caravans and advance the militarization of borders.  Unable to meet the most basic and rustic needs for survival and with little-to-no government support, migrants are being violently detained, beaten, and forced to remain in absolute dispossession by governments all along the migrant trail.

The dispossession of many Guatemalans’ basic needs goes in hand with the dispossession of basic rights to those fighting to uphold them.  The currently dominant political culture in the country is one that punishes individuals for speaking out, exercising their right to migrate or to peacefully demonstrate, as well as standing in opposition to the extractivist economic agendas of the powerful national and foreign elite. Indications of this logic are President Giammattei’s forced firing of one of the co-founders of the #TengoMiedo (#IAmScared) campaign for catapulting the issue of gender-based violence and femicide to broad public view.  Other examples also include the 964 arrest warrants currently faced by CCDA members and land defenders, as well as the case of Bernardo Caal who has spent over three years in prison for opposition to the construction of the Oxec hydroelectric dam along the Cahabon River in Alta Verapaz.

As the ongoing effects of Covid-19 exacerbate the vulnerabilities of the population, the Guatemalan government enacts limitations to social gatherings and works strategically to also prohibit demonstrations.  From the militarization of borders to violently deter migrants, to the silencing of human rights and land defenders through criminalization, intimidation, threats and violence, Guatemala’s new CC elections set the stage for another long period of unobstructed corruption, impunity, and repression. As Guatemala transitions from one season to another with high hopes of better times, all that is certain is that the struggle ahead is one that will require a united and well organized society with continuous solidarity and support.