Editor’s note: On Oct. 19, a group of about 50 people, many of them Guatemalan immigrants, held a demonstration in Chicago protesting the anti-democratic actions of the present corrupt government, in conjunction with rallies in several other U.S. cities, while many protests had been held day after day in Guatemala itself. The Guatemalans were joined by other Chicagoans, including a young woman from the Philippines who came to show her solidarity and talked briefly about the similarities of their struggles against corruption. What follows is a participant’s report to News and Letters Committees.
Chicago—We’re here in front of the Guatemalan consulate to protest the situation in Guatemala, in which presidential candidate Bernardo Arévalo won the elections and should take possession of the new mandate on Jan. 14, 2024. But now, the “evil forces,” the corrupt, are attempting to derail the elections that were handsomely won by him. They have initiated a movement in which they want to nullify the elections and probably install, through chicanery, the continuation of the corruption regime.
NEWLY ELECTED PRESIDENT’S PARTY ATTACKED
Corrupt forces dissolved his party, Movimiento Semilla, alleging that in 2017 they were registered as a party in an illegal manner, because they found some signatures that did not correspond to the people, or they challenged that those are their real signatures. Based on that, they dissolved his party. Right now, if he takes over the presidency, he will have no party. They are only investigating him, and not the other parties.
As we have seen countless times, some people are collecting signatures. For example, I will have my wife sign for me if I’m in the bathroom. She signs for me, and later they will say no, that’s not my signature. In the recent elections in Chicago, my next-door neighbor signed for one of the mayoral candidates. But then she died a few days later. So now when they turn in the signatures, she appears as a deceased person. There are a lot of things that can happen and yes, maybe some signatures can be challenged, but Arévalo still has enough signatures to have his party registered. This also happened in the previous election. The registration of the party was six years ago, and they are challenging the signatures of only his party, not the others; there were 12 or 15 parties that had contenders in the election.
The present government has been taken by corrupt forces on three levels: not only the presidency but the Supreme Court, the judicial system, the selection of the judges. You will not be selected for any position if you do not belong to the cabal of corruption. This is what has to end. Why is this important? Because, for example, what happens to the taxes and all the other things that a government could do with the money that it collects. That money is not going directly to improve hospitals, to improve education, to improve the schools. It just gets disappeared and funneled to the personnel that they select to get contracts—to their friends, relatives, and companies that only exist on paper.
This impacts ordinary people. For example, you go to a hospital and there are no supplies; you go to the rural areas and there is barely any education. Education in the rural areas now is only learning to write and read. That’s where we have fallen behind. Malnutrition is an endemic illness in Guatemala. That is fueling the immigration to the U.S. The only way for someone who is born in a rural area, born poor, to improve himself is to emigrate, or you cannot change your status from one generation to the other.
CORRUPTION ROBS THE POPULATION
Natural resources are being given away without any benefit to the country or to the people. Recently the contract of a lithium mining company that belongs to a foreign-owned conglomerate, was given to them because of bribes. But the damage to the ecosystem in the Izabal department [comparable to a U.S. state], for example, is appalling. The lake (the biggest in the country) has been contaminated, the fish are dead. There is no way for the people around the lake to have sustainable fishing. The area around the mine is almost like going into another country. Security forces control the area. They have forcibly bought the parcels of land from small landowners and forcibly evicted them. That is the way the mining company has acquired land, and then the land is protected by former special forces at the direction of the mining company.
The U.S. government is not involved on the front lines. If they are acting, they are behind the scenes. But Stephen McFarland, the former ambassador, is making some statements, some posts on his private Twitter account. Officially the only statement from the U.S. is that the Guatemalan government should try to preserve the lawful elections and not derail the process. You will not know if the U.S. is acting behind the scenes, or not.
ATTACKED FOR PROMOTING TRUE DEMOCRACY
Arévalo has good name recognition. His father was a very good president from 1945 to 1951. He initiated a lot of modernization of the country. For example, he instituted what is equivalent to the Social Security Administration and Medicare programs in Guatemala, which is the Instituto Guatemalteco de Seguridad Social. It was a big change. He developed roads to the strategic places such as ports. He also instituted many of the high schools across the country that allowed people from the interior of the country to be educated. He made a lot of changes in the way that business would be conducted. Before, the banks would not give small loans, so he instituted the equivalent of the Small Business Administration. A lot of those social changes were not in line with the thought of the traditional social structure of the Guatemalan elite.
Arévalo is not a communist, is not a socialist. He is someone who wants to make changes in Guatemala. He is not promoting a “leftist agenda.” He is only trying to promote a true democracy in Guatemala. The conservatives don’t need to be afraid of him. To the liberals, probably he will not go far enough, but just by ending the corruption in Guatemala and instituting democracy, that will be a big plus for the country.
We should support the people of Guatemala. We will be glad for your support for a true democracy and to help us progress in achieving a standard of living that benefits all the Indigenous people of Guatemala and all the poor people, not just the elite.