Guatemalans in exile seek US help to achieve democracy and rule of law

WASHINGTON, DC — A panel of exiled Guatemalans organized by religious organizations in the US has expressed concern about the stifling of democracy and the rule of law in Central America, saying a US failure to fight corruption there would do so continue to drive mass migration from the region.

When the panel met via Zoom on June 6, a large group of migrants — as many as 6,000 according to some reports — were reportedly headed to the US-Mexico border from Latin America.

Organizers said they were trying to reach the region to draw attention to the reasons driving the mass migration — corruption, violence, economic instability — until the June 10 Los Angeles Summit of the Americas ended.

“A small group of families, of people, managed the land like a plantation, as if the territory were their personal property,” said Juan Francisco Sandoval, a former Guatemalan anti-corruption investigator at the Hope Border Institute and Faith organized panels in action.

“And because of that,” he continued, “the country is in a state where there are … few people with education, little investment in society, because that same unequal system ultimately allows for cheap labor and allows control over the threads.” of the political (system) and destiny of the country.”

The Hope Border Institute and Faith in Action organizations are part of the Root Causes Initiative, led by faith groups seeking to influence US policy and how it affects factors driving migration.

The panel was part of an effort calling for the imposition of financial sanctions on Guatemalan “senior officials and oligarchs who have conspired to coerce more than two dozen independent judges, prosecutors and civil society leaders,” including panellists, into exile .

Fearing for his life, Sandoval fled his native Guatemala in July 2021 after being dismissed with impunity by the Guatemalan Special Prosecutor’s Office, initially set up by a United Nations-backed commission to fight corruption. The lawyer who investigated high-profile transplant cases now has an arrest warrant out for him in Guatemala.

A second panelist, Thelma Aldana, a former chair of Guatemala’s Supreme Court and the country’s former attorney general, was granted asylum in the US after being forced to leave the country in 2021 due to threats of imprisonment over her anti-corruption efforts.

It is this kind of politically motivated retaliation that stifles democracy and the rule of law that the Summit of the Americas, a gathering of leaders from North, Central and South America, says it is trying to eradicate. The panel was organized as a preview of the regional summit.

On a website about the event, the US State Department, which is hosting the event, said it is working to “engage stakeholders in the region to make leadership commitments and concrete actions that will dramatically improve pandemic response and resilience, a green and just recovery, building strong and inclusive democracies and tackling the root causes of irregular migration.”

However, some of the region’s leaders did not show up for the summit and showed little willingness to work with the US vision.

Mexican President Andres Lopez Obrador announced on June 6, the day the summit opened, that he would not be present because the US had barred Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela from the gathering. He accused the Biden administration of “playing the old politics, interventionism, lack of respect for nations and their people.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said the reason they were barred from the event was because “we don’t think dictators should be invited.”

Demonstrators outside the convention center where the Los Angeles gathering was held approved of the decision. Some gathered at the beginning of the summit to protest against Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega, but also against Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, who has jailed 36,000 Salvadorans since late April and suspended some personal liberties after a wave of violence.

Like his counterparts in Guatemala and Honduras, Bukele did not attend but sent a representative.

Migrants from these three countries make up the majority of Latin American immigrants to the United States

Some criticized the Biden administration for focusing too much on the guest list, but they also criticized the Mexican president for being an obstructionist.

Benjamin Gedan, associate director of the Wilson Center’s Latin America program, told CNN on June 9 that the days leading up to the summit had been “absolutely chaotic.”

“The region is in dire need of US support and all kinds of international assistance, and instead we spent months thinking about who would be invited to the summit, who would attend, rather than the agenda for the meeting,” he said.

As China gained economic footholds in many countries in Latin America, but especially Central America, Biden administration officials sought to persuade the region of its economic commitment, including plans to make investments, and its interest in a prosperous Latin America, in particular when it comes down to democracy.

Panelist Ursula Roldán Andrade said that the US “is the only one who can help” as Guatemala and its neighbors enter a “dark epoch, an epoch that signals the loss of institutional democracy,” an epoch that is changing the rule of law finds, which took 25 years to build, torn apart.

The government’s failure to provide its citizens with a safe environment, programs to educate them and advocate for their health has created a social crisis that has left Guatemalans with no choice but to leave, she said.

Thousands of Guatemalans, like many of their regional neighbors, see undocumented migration as the only way out of problems their governments won’t solve, Roldán said, and that will continue unless the region’s problems are solved. There is little hope of organizing as a people to elect leaders who respect even the bare minimum of democratic rules, she said.

Some of the panel’s exiles previously met with US Vice President Kamala Harris during her trip to Guatemala in June 2021 to discuss the government’s economic commitments to help Central American countries curb immigration.

Sandoval said when the meeting took place, Harris spoke of prioritizing issues related to corruption.

“It gave us hope,” he said, but as the months have passed, “I regret not having seen a concrete outcome in terms of anti-corruption efforts,” Harris said.

In response to a question from the audience, Sandoval said he hopes the US Conference of Catholic Bishops will make a strong statement against some of the injustices taking place.

“Historically, the Catholic Church has played a prominent role” in denouncing injustices, he said, if only to let others know what is happening in the country.

Guatemalan Cardinal Álvaro Ramazzini, from Huehuetenango, was present via Zoom to listen to the panel but was unable to speak because of laryngitis, organizers said.

However, in a written note shared via Zoom, he said: “I think the (US bishops’ conference) is so big, with different positions, that I don’t know if they could reach (an opinion) when it comes to a word to say about injustice and poverty in Guatemala. I know bishops in the US who engage in social struggle from an evangelical standpoint, but I don’t find that to be a unanimous position.”

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