Indigenous Authorities Launch National Strike to Demand Resignation of Corrupt Actors, Defend Democracy

The Highlands’ Committee of Small Scale Farmers (CCDA) protests in front of the Public Prosecutor’s office.

For the last 10 days, Guatemala has been on an indefinite national strike. Since Bernardo Arévalo and Karin Herrera were elected president and vice-president, in a demonstration of popular rejection of the status quo of corruption and state repression, Public Prosecutor-led attacks on democracy have worsened. Most recently, the Public Prosecutor’s office (MP) ordered the seizure of ballots from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal on Friday, September 29. 

Indigenous authorities across the country, including the K’iche’ authorities of Totonicapan (the 48 Cantones) and BTS partner, the Xinka Parliament, had prepared for months for this eventuality. In the face of this latest attempt to subvert the will of the people, they officially declared an indefinite national strike with clear demands: the resignation of Attorney General Consuelo Porras, prosecutors Rafael Curruchiche and Cinthia Monterroso and Judge Fredy Orellana, all of whom have actively sought to use the judicial system and MP to overturn election results. 

Aerial photo of protestors demanding the resignation of corrupt actors. Photo credit: Festivales Solidarios

Beginning on October 2, protestors arrived outside of the Public Prosecutor’s office and blocked key roads throughout the country. At the start, roadblocks affected around a dozen key points around the country. Just ten days later, around 120 points have been blocked, while protestors continue to gather in front of the MP and other buildings housing members of the “Pact of the Corrupt.”

Current roadblocks in Guatemala. Photo credit: Alex Maldonado, Agencia Ocote

These efforts have primarily been led and maintained by Indigenous authorities and communities, with ever-growing support from collectives, social movements, professional organizations, students and professors, campesino organizations, and everyday citizens tired of corruption and repression. BTS partner organizations, including CCDA, IMAP, New Hope Foundation, and Rabinal Legal Clinic have all been organizing to maintain a constant participation in these ongoing protests.

Xinka Parliament authorities protesting. Photo credit: Prensa Comunitaria

IMAP protests in San Lucas Tolimán. Photo credit: IMAP.

Protests have been largely peaceful, joyful events, maintained through organization and solidarity, as people pour out to offer food and blankets to protestors, many of whom have maintained a 24-hour presence. Neighbours have reconnected, and the blocked streets are filled with youth playing soccer and protestors dancing and enjoying impromptu concerts

Infiltrators Seek to Provoke Violence, Government Seeks to Repress Protestors

As peaceful protests continued to grow into their second week, the Pact of the Corrupt appeared increasingly nervous. The Constitutional Court granted an appeal brought by CACIF (a business organization representing the country’s ruling elite) which sought to end roadblocks as a form of protest, now and in the future. The Court also seemingly ruled to guarantee the peaceful transfer of power in January, though many noted that their resolution did not name the president elect, and used questionable syntax to undermine election results. 

Then, on Monday, October 9, the infamous, military-aligned Foundation Against Terrorism continued its unending criminalization efforts, bringing a sedition charge against the 48 Cantones. The MP and the Interior Ministry made public statements criminalizing peaceful protests and denouncing alleged vandalism.

On Monday evening, President Giammattei announced a supposedly live press conference in the evening. Just thirty minutes before Giammattei’s address to the nation, infiltrators went to Guatemala City’s Central Park and carried out property damage, destroying a glass structure and desecrating an altar that has been set up to permanently honour the 41 girls killed by the Guatemalan State in the Hogar Seguro fire. Though peaceful protestors immediately dispersed, trying to flee the violence, the police tear gassed the entire crowd (though even the police themselves apologized to peaceful protestors and named the infiltrators as the source of the violence). Immediately after, Giammattei was on television saying that the protests were made up of just a few people, denouncing the supposed violence and vandalism, and declaring that he would use force and criminalization to clear the roadblocks and punish those organizing the protests. 

Communications experts have proved that Giammattei’s supposedly live broadcast was pre-recorded, likely indicating that the government had pre-planned a message of repression which they could justify through the violent acts of infiltrators posing as protestors. 

In the Face of More Repression, More Organization

After Monday’s events, the government had set the scene for state repression of peaceful protest. Reports began to filter out of riot police and soldiers deploying. Riot police showed up in a variety of protest sites both in the capital and in the western highlands. Videos showed them lining the street in front of protestors, and in the case of Lomas de Zaragoza, firing tear gas against peaceful protestors. 

In the face of an intimidating display of state force, protestors numbers swelled. Though the situation was tense, the protestors remained peaceful, keeping their guard up for hours and eventually causing the police to pull back. In one inspiring scene in Chimaltenango, protestors escorted police and soldiers back to police headquarters. Likewise, in one Guatemala City neighborhood, hundreds of community members on bikes and motorcycles shepherded police away from their roadblock.

The International Community Speaks Out Against Government’s Attacks on Democracy

As protests have continued on, the Guatemalan government turned to the Organization of American States (OAS), calling for mediation of the crisis. This request came just weeks after Giammattei, as well as the Guatemalan representative to the OEA, Ambassador Mario Búcaro, and the Foreign Relations Office decried supposed attacks on Guatemala’s sovereignty from other countries who have objected to the criminalization and judicialization of the electoral process. Despite the Guatemalan government’s repeated denunciations of the OAS’s past missions, the OAS agreed to send a mediation and dialogue delegation.

During October 10 OAS special meetings on the situation in Guatemala (the fourth in a series of such discussions), Canada’a representative, Ambassador H.E. Stewart Savage expressed his serious concern about the MP’s efforts to undermine the electoral process, which he said “demonstrate a total disinterest in the will of the people.” He emphasized Canada’s condemnation of these anti-democratic actions and any actor who carries them out.

Likewise, OAS chief Luis Almagro raised serious questions about how a criminally inept MP that has allowed organized crime and corruption to remain in impunity could dedicate so much attention to criminalizing a political party and an electoral process.

International organizations have also spoken out. BTS is proud to have signed onto a series of letters expressing concern about the subversion of democracy and the ongoing threat of criminalization. Most recently, international organizations sent this letter to Guatemalan institutions, including the MP, the Interior Ministry, the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office, and the Foreign Affairs Office, as well as to international diplomatic bodies, including the Canadian and U.S. embassies.