Democracy under threat in Guatemala as the Right resorts to “lawfare” to block progressive candidates

“Democracy in Guatemala has taken another step back — they fear the people and their sovereign decisions.”

Former Human Rights Ombudsman Jordán Rodas

By Logan Williams

In recent months, we have seen the latest use of “lawfare”; using legal machinations to hinder an opponent, from the Latin American right. The Guatemalan right-wing government on the 27th January utilised the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to block the registration for the presidential ticket of Indigenous peasant movement leader Thelma Cabrera Pérez and former human rights ombudsman Jordán Rodas.

These progressive figures were standing on a joint presidential ticket for one of Guatemala’s largest political parties, the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP).

The Electoral Tribunal has chosen to block the registration of the MLP’s candidates due to alleged legal charges and complaints made against Jordan Rodas. These allegations appear to come from a complaint filed by the current Human Rights Ombudsman, José Alejandro Córdova, who denounced Rodas for alleged anomalies during the collection of compensation when he left office within the Ombudsman’s Office. Rodas responded to these allegations and later block by station stating, “It is unprecedented that the TSE would reject our MLP ticket’s registration. Democracy in Guatemala has taken another step back — they fear the people and their sovereign decisions.”

Whilst examining this decision it is vital that we understand what the MLP represents. The MLP call for the formation of a democratically elected constituent assembly with the strict mandate of drafting a new constitution for Guatemala based on the ideal of a creating a plurinational state that represents the many Indigenous peoples of Guatemala.

As well as seeking to transform the Guatemalan state, the MLP is committed to adopting the ideas of and, the construction of buen vivir for all. This idea has grown across the Latin American left and indigenous populations in recent decades and is centred around restricting society to ensure it is community-centric, ecologically-balanced and culturally-sensitive. As well as, a progressive policy platform the MLP is led by feminist Indigenous human rights defenders and frames itself as the political expression of massive social movements, organizing hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans from city to the countryside around a common project in a similar fashion to the MAS-IPSP in Bolivia and, the Citizens Revolution in Ecuador.

The decision to block the MLP joint presidential ticket of the MLP by the TSE, is simply the latest example of repression and injustice faced by Guatemala’s popular movements. In recent years, we have seen the assassination of dozens of peasant, Indigenous, and trade union leaders in horrific echoes of the genocide against these same groups just a generation ago. It is unsurprising that these same groups have responded to this decision by independently engaging in blockades of main roads to voice their protest against this undemocratic attack on their ability to democratically elect representatives dedicated to representing their communities, and which seek to forge a new Guatemala for all.

This latest attack on the progressive and indigenous movements has been derided by leading Latin American solidarity activist Francisco Dominguez who has stated the actions of the TSE are “a total disgrace”. Francisco went on to argue that “the weaponization of the judiciary against progressive presidential candidates, indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera, and Jordan Rodas, not only disenfranchises a substantial part of the electorate, but it’s also deeply undemocratic and will invariably be upheld by the powers that be by means of violence. The presidential election in June 2023 has effectively been stolen.”

Therefore, it is vital that the British Left build support for the progressive and indigenous populations of both Guatemala and, of Latin America more broadly, in the face of these abuses of the judiciary to curb the progressive tide sweeping once again across the continent. We must amplify initiatives like the Progressive International’s petition in support of Guatemala’s right to democracy and popular sovereignty.

Featured image: Thelma Cabrera, Indigenous peasant movement leader and blocked presidential candidate. Photo taken in 2019. Image credit: Carlos Sebastián under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license.

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