Guatemala: One Year of Stagnation, Half a Century of Regression

By Induvina Hernandez 

In the 12 months in which Alejandro Giammattei Falla has held the presidency of the republic, Guatemala has suffered a setback of several decades in every sense.

Nepotism, lack of transparency, authoritarianism, corruption, poor management and incapacity are some features that have described the presidency of this politician, who was the former director of the Penitentiary System and contender for Chief Justice in at least four occasions.

Giammattei made his debut by imposing states of exception in numerous areas of the country, a practice that he then maintained as part of his policy in relation to Covid-19, which captured world attention in 2020 and continues to mark our reality in 2021. In relation to the pandemic, these states of exception that restricted our rights for more than half the year did not manage to decrease the rate of infection or reach of this evil. Nevertheless, given the seriousness of the emergency, the Legislature agreed to grant access to resources for plans that were not executed with due diligence.

The ruler strutted around makeshift facilities called temporary hospitals, located in the Industrial Park and other departmental capitals. These facilities were not equipped with the necessary resources, and their staff did not obtain protective equipment or receive wages on time. In fact, the hospital set up in the Industrial Park was staffed by students of the University of San Carlos (USAC) completing their work experience (EPS) that has now come to an end. That is to say, as we’re on the verge of a second outbreak, the few personnel that were there in the beginning has been reduced even further.

Edwin Asturias, the lauded head of the entity in charge of care policy (Presidential Attention to the Emergency of Covid-19 -Coprecovid-), left the role, going out without a bang, despite the high expectations he raised. The presidential management of the policy in the face of Covid-19 has been a disaster that is reflected in the degree of real infections (not the manipulated official figures) and in the recent presidential speech in which he transfers the blame onto citizens.

It’s the typical behavior of a grumpy and authoritarian politician like Giammattei, who in his eagerness to defend his protégé, Luis Miguel Martínez, invented jobs for him, made precious resources available to his office and allowed him to use the security forces to break the law, as in the case of the illegal arrest of the reporter, Sonny Figueroa.

But the government’s malignancy against the press beyond that serious act against one journalist. Verbal and even physical aggression…have been the tonic of his behavior that has led to denying journalists access to information and, with it, sustaining non-transparent behavior.

In November, the newly appointed Minister of the Interior Gendri Reyes marked the peak of the Giammattei administration’s dictatorial behaviour. With the attack on protesters on November 21st in the Plaza de la Constitución and the arbitrary and violent detention of more than 40 people in the historic center, Reyes violated rights and guarantees, this has earned him a criminal complaint for his conduct.

However, the policy that has been featured across the board in the administration of Giammattei Falla is the collusion with the other two powers of the State, (legislative and judicial) to break the system of checks and balances which have been violated by corporatist complicity of the presidents of those branches. The independence of powers today is non-existent in Guatemala. This destroys the incipient and fragile democracy that has been trying to build itself since 1985.

To add to this, the practices of indiscriminate repression and aggression against the press, the discretionary management of the public sphere, non-transparent management of resources and abuses of power, have made the clock in Guatemala go back at least half a century. The government’s briefings, rather than being written on a computer, will appear in stone.

This piece is republished from Plaza Publica and can be found here