The Power of Protest in Guatemala
by Diana Pastor
On April 25th, there was a peaceful national demonstration to demand the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina and Vice-President Roxana Baldetti. In Guatemala, it’s hard to get a large number of people to turn up to a protest: some people do not attend for fear, others due to lack of time and others because they believe that demonstrations are powerless to change the situation. But on the 25th of April, the square of the Constitution of Guatemala and the central park of Xela were full of students, young people, old people and families with children; all there up to express their rejection of the government that has served for almost 4 years in a totally incompetent and shameless manner.
Last year, there was a similar protest after a law was passed that came to be known as the Ley Monsanto, which was set to open the doors to the use of GM seeds in the country under the pretext of preserving vegetables in Guatemala. It caused thousands of Guatemalans to join together in protest against the law. The protests worked: after a few months the Congress of Deputies voted to repeal the law. People proved once again that, if organized, they have the power to change Guatemala.
Twice in the country’s history Guatemalans have protested for incumbent presidents to resign. The first demonstration was against the government of Manuel Estrada Cabrera in 1920. Although Estrada Cabrera was an expert in political repression, this did not turn out to be an obstacle that prevented the population from publicly expressing their discontent with his administration. Guatemalans also protested against Jorge Ubico when he attempted to extend his term in 1944, forcing him to resign and giving way to one of the most flourishing eras of Guatemala’s history: known as the ten years of the “Guatemalan spring” (more on that next month!).
Otto Pérez Molina and Roxana Baldetti did not resign after the protests last month, but it remains to be seen whether they will finish their term this year. Regardless, April 25th, 2015 will be a day that will be remembered in Guatemala’s history books as another day when Guatemalans awoke from their slumber in which corruption, violence and poverty has nearly drowned them. Freedom of expression and organisation are still possible in Guatemala and, although the progress towards building a better country is slow and arduous, days like the 25th April remind us that it is still moving ahead steadily, despite all the problems that this beautiful country suffers.