The people’s fight for justice in Guatemala

Thursday, September 3, 2015 - 10:49

Today’s news of the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina is the latest achievement of the people’s peaceful protest in Guatemala.  For months the people of Guatemala have been steadfastly calling for the president and other senior government officials to face justice for their part in a customs tax fraud ring. 

On Tuesday Congress voted to withdraw his legal immunity which would allow him to face trial for his part in a corruption scandal in which business people were allowed to pay bribes to avoid import duties.  Late on Wednesday night Perez Molina submitted his resignation after a judge issued an order to detain him for his part in the case.  The moves follow months of calls from protestors for his resignation.

 “The dramatic events of the past few days show citizens are losing their fear and demanding change. The mood is shifting and the people of Guatemala are now finding themselves able to demand transparency and accountability from their leaders.  The power is now with the people,” said Laura Hurtado, ActionAid Guatemala’s Country Director.

For months thousands of people from different areas of the country gathered to force the resignation of senior government officials. The movement started in April when the International Committee against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Public Minister (MP) published a report exposing several high-level public officials as part of a customs tax fraud ring.  Responding to calls on social media and through community mobilisers, a movement of peaceful protest began to gain momentum.  The peaceful nature of the movement is remarkable in a country known for its sky-high levels of violence.  The movement’s call was for justice.

The first major demonstration took place on 25 April when more than 30,000 people gathered in Guatemala City’s Central Plaza.  The crowd carried placards and banners defiantly calling for change with shouts, whistles and the national anthem.  For the movement this show of force was a turning point and a clear sign that the people had the potential to achieve change.

Since April, more than 18 demonstrations have been organized in the capital and other cities. People without distinction of religion, race, color or social status have been gathering in the central park both in Guatemala City and in regional capitals to demonstrate their indignation and voice their desire for urgent political and democratic change.

On 8 May, Guatemalans and the movement managed to affect that change on a major scale for the first time.  In an unprecedented turn of events, social pressure and an investigation by the MP led to the resignation of the Vice President, Roxana Baldetti.  This was a clear victory for a movement with justice as their aspiration. 

During all this period Peasants Unity Committee (CUC), the NGO and cooperatives coordination CONGCOOP, Nuevo Día local Association and Guillermo Toriello Foundation FGT have been crucial in shaping the Social People's Assembly, a coordination of more than 72 organizations integrated by women groups, farmers, students, rural movements, who urged the government to face up to the people’s demands.

The events unfolding in Guatemala show peaceful protests works.  To date pressure from 18 demonstrations, two hunger strikes and more than 100,000 people on the streets has led to the resignation of the President and seven government ministers.  This is a real demonstration of the power in people to demand accountability. The next frontier is to demand accountability for rights, particularly land rights in rural communities where people are increasingly being pushed off their land.

Events are now unfolding rapidly in Guatemala and whether Sunday’s general elections will take place as planned remains to be seen.