“We refuse to live in a dictatorship” Action taken during manifestations on Martí Street, Guatemala City during the National Strike, July 29th, 2021 Credits: Festivales Solidarios

By: Laura Robinson

In this context, the government has played an antagonistic role due to the collapse of hospitals, the lack of medicines, and vaccines. Therefore, the Indigenous Peoples ask, ‘where is the money?’”

-Xinka Parliament “Press conference of the Xinka people on the national strike against corruption and impunity.”

Throughout the pandemic, several corruption scandals have affected the Guatemalan government’s COVID-19 response. A state of calamity enabled direct purchases with reduced oversight and transparency, allowing more opportunities for bribes; failed social programs meant to soften the blow of stay-at-home orders; and emergency food programs which took upwards of a year to deliver more than a portion of the promised food. In November of 2020, when the government proposed slashing public expenditures to health and much-needed support for families struggling with malnutrition (aggravated by rising costs due to the pandemic), protests arose calling for the resignation of the president and congress.

In 2021, as the government public-health strategy shifted from mitigating the effects of lock-downs towards preventing them by sourcing vaccines, questions of corruption remained. Only 31% of vaccines in Guatemala have been purchased directly and over half of these vaccines result from a bi-lateral contract with Russia for the Sputnik V vaccine. This contract has been the cause of much scrutiny. To date, only 1.46 million out of nearly 16 million doses purchased have been delivered, shipments coming through inconsistent, unpredictable trickles. As a result, complaints and investigations have been launched into possible corruption schemes between the government and the Russian entity selling the vaccines. These investigations are surfacing at the same time as a recent corruption scheme involving President Giammattei and Russian mining companies operating in Izabal.

The inadequate response to COVID has been worsened by insufficient investment of resources and questions of corruption: causing the closure of hospitals overwhelmed by COVID patients and leaving the Indigenous population disproportionately vulnerable due to unequal access to vaccines. In the wake of the fourth wave of the pandemic, the Attorney General, Consuelo Porras, fired the anti-corruption prosecutor, Francisco Sandoval, putting investigations into corruption schemes in peril. In reaction, Indigenous and rural leaders called for peaceful demonstrations against the rampant corruption and impunity. The Xinka Parliament and the CCDA led these month-long calls for national strikes with demands for the resignation of  Consuelo Porras, Alejandro Giammattei, and the reinstatement of Francisco Sandoval. 

As the criminal alliance within the government continues to move against transparent actors fighting impunity and commit acts of corruption, they do so at the expense of the health of the population.