Guatemala: Using the Pandemic to Secure the Interests of Big Business

By Giorgio Trucchi on August 26, 2020

Guatemala is currently the country in Central America and the Caribbean with the most people killed by the Covid-19 pandemic (over 2,600) and with a fatality rate of over 3.8%, one of the highest in the region. It is also the third country with the most cases of coronavirus (almost 70,000).

The first case in Guatemala was officially registered on March 13. On March 17, a nationwide state of public calamity was decreed to contain the pandemic, with a suspension of constitutional guarantees and curfews. The measure was extended five times.

A state of siege was also decreed in several municipalities in the country, a decision that led to the increasing militarization of the territories and the detention of more than 50 people, including indigenous authorities and journalists.

Human rights organizations, such as the Unit for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders in Guatemala (Udefegua), denounced the lack of access to data and sources of information on the pandemic, as well as the low credibility of the figures provided by health authorities.

“We are facing the presence of a lot of underestimated data. The hospitals have collapsed, the health system is increasingly deteriorated and the health authorities, despite having the highest budget in their history, are unable to cope with the pandemic,” said Jorge Santos, general coordinator of Udefegua.

In fact, the success rates of the multi-million dollar budget are very low, something that has cost the position of the health minister, Hugo Monroy. The technical and administrative deputy ministers were also dismissed due to irregularities in the acquisition of medicines and health materials

At the beginning of August, for example, the follow-through in the acquisition of fans, tests and personal protection equipment was only 4%, that of the family bonus (about 125 dollars) and the employment protection fund was less than 40%, and the disbursements for the program of remodeling and improvement of the infrastructure of hospitals and health centers reached only 16%.

The same was true for the funds for temporary hospitals, whose execution was less than 15%.

In spite of the situation, the Guatemalan authorities have begun to reactivate economic activities and to allow gatherings in almost the entire country.

“The impression is that this whole strategy was aimed at guaranteeing privileges to the Guatemalan oligarchy. It has been a criminal policy of ‘every man for himself’, within the framework of authoritarianism, the regression of democracy and the increasing numbers of attacks against human rights defenders,” warned Santos.

As an example, the coordinator of Udefegua pointed out three municipalities in Izabal and two in Alta Verapaz, where the state of stay in place is maintained. The government argued that the measure is due to the presence of individuals and armed groups that carry out acts of violence. However, for Jorge Santos the real objective is to guarantee the interests of mining companies and agro-industrial corporations in the area.

“Militarization has meant violent evictions, arrests, aggressions, and sexual abuses against women. What has been implemented are schemes of social control and repression, in processes that are increasingly difficult for social auditing and human rights observation.

The government of President Giammattei has perversely used the pandemic and the low mobility of the population to support the interests of big capital. All this at the expense of the freedom, security and life of the communities that, instead of being attended to, are attacked and their rights violated,” added Santos.

According to Global Witness’ latest report, Guatemala remains among the countries with the highest number of people defending land and common property who were killed last year.

The so-called ‘pact of the corrupt’, which brings together the eight oligarchic groups that control the economy, politics and justice in the country, is part of the strategy of aggression against those who demand deep change in Guatemala.

“They are the ones who designed and are financing the strategy of attacks against democracy and human rights. They want to kidnap the State and take control of the institutions to guarantee their interests and the maintenance of an economic model that concentrates wealth, exploits the labor force and common goods and plunders territories.

The new attacks these days against the Human Rights Ombudsman, the Special Prosecutor against Impunity and against judges of the system are at the greatest risk. It is part of this strategy of aggression against officials who, under the framework of honesty and the defense of the rule of law, have sustained the struggle initiated by civil society,” said Jorge Santos.

For the coordinator of Udefegua, President Giammattei has been deepening the plans of aggression against the weak democratic construction in Guatemala.

Between January and June of this year, Udefegua counted 677 aggressions against defenders belonging to some 70 organizations and communities. February, June and May were the most violent months with 180, 152 and 126 attacks respectively. In only six months there was a 73% increase in the total number of aggressions in 2019 (494). Thirteen murders were also registered between January and mid-August.

“There were attacks on freedom of expression, violent extra-judicial evictions, and many cases of criminalization, several murders and the disappearance of a community leader. In other words, while the population was suffering the impacts of the pandemic, the government and the oligarchy were violently attacking the political opposition and human rights defenders.

Practically speaking the behavior of aggressions and violence against defenders has the same exponential growth rate as the pandemic. If the same behavior were to occur during the next six months, 2020 would become the year with the highest level of violence against human rights defenders in Guatemala,” he concluded.

Source: America Latina en Movimiento, translation Resumen Latinoamericano, North America bureau