Guatemala Rises: Democracy Under Threat, Citizens Take the Highways

In an unwavering stand for democracy, Guatemalans are taking to the streets, turning them into blockades, and demanding their voices be heard. Amidst the sweltering heat, one can see the fiery spirit of individuals like 52-year-old Imelda Mejía, holding up homemade protest signs, proclaiming, “We can’t take all the corruption.”

Post the surprise victory of anti-corruption politician Bernardo Arévalo in the presidential elections, the nation has been in turmoil, with protestors pushing back against alleged governmental attempts to undermine the election results. This has culminated in an indefinite national shutdown, with over 120 protest blockades mushrooming across the country, all in defense of democracy.

Contrary to President Alejandro Giammattei’s assertion that blockades “restrict freedom of movement,” these barricades symbolize the unwavering strength and determination of a populace that refuses to let democracy be stifled. Echoing the sentiments of the Indigenous Maya traditional authorities, thousands of citizens primarily from Indigenous regions have taken over highways, signaling a powerful message: their patience is waning.

Bernardo Arévalo, the unexpected progressive winner, and his party, Movimiento Semilla (Seed Movement), find themselves entangled in controversies, many viewing this as a ploy to hinder him from assuming office. Authorities are trying to dig up irregularities in the party’s registration, while Arévalo and many of his supporters view this as a calculated move to slow-walk his inauguration.

The core demand of these protestors? The resignation of four pivotal officials believed to be sabotaging the electoral process: Consuelo Porras (Guatemala’s attorney general), Rafael Curruchiche (special anti-impunity prosecutor), Cinthia Monterroso (prosecutor), and Judge Fredy Orellana. Notably, all of these figures are barred from entering the U.S. due to their perceived corrupt and undemocratic actions.

A unique form of protest was visible in Santa Elena where participants took turns swinging at a piñata adorned with the faces of Porras and Curruchiche. Symbolic, yes, but it reflects the strong sentiments of the people: change needs to come, and it starts with the ousting of these officials.

However, the path to justice isn’t without obstacles. While many peaceful protests dominate the national shutdown, there have been isolated incidents of violence, tear-gassing, and threats against protestors. Yet, as the saying goes, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Despite these hurdles, Guatemalans are resilient, making it clear that even if displaced, they’ll regroup and return stronger.

The undercurrent is unmistakable. The people believe that there’s a covert attempt to prevent Arévalo from assuming power come January 14. While Giammattei reassures the transition will proceed as planned, the mistrust lingers.

One thing is undeniable: Guatemalans have chosen their battle, and they’re sticking to their guns. Carmen Cuj, a young volunteer during the elections, passionately states, “Protesting, taking the streets, and especially setting up blockades is the only way those in power can hear us.” And hear, the world must.