Guatemalans in Exile Seek U.S. Help to Achieve Democracy and Rule of Law

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WASHINGTON, DC – A panel of Guatemalans in exile, organized by faith-based organizations in the United States, has expressed concern about the stifling of democracy and the rule of law in Central America and said the failure on the part of the United States to fight corruption there will continue to drive mass migration from the region.

As the June 6 panel met via Zoom, a large group of migrants – 6,000 by some accounts – from Latin America are believed to be heading towards the US-Mexico border.


Organizers said they were trying to reach the region to draw attention to the reasons for the mass migration – corruption, violence, economic instability – as the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles wrapped up on June 10. .

“A small group of families, of people, have run the country like a plantation, as if the national territory was their personal property, former Guatemalan anti-corruption investigator Juan Francisco Sandoval said during the panel organized by the Hope Border Institute and Faith. in action.

“And that’s why,” he continued, “the country is in the situation where there are few educated people, little investment in society, because at the end of the day, this same unequal system allows cheap labor and allows control of the strings of the political (system) and the destiny of the country.

Hope Border Institute and Faith in Action are part of the faith-led Root Causes Initiative that seeks to influence US policy and how it affects drivers of migration.

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

Sandoval, fearing for this life, fled his native Guatemala in July 2021 after being fired from the Guatemalan Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity, which was originally created by a UN-backed commission to fight corruption. The lawyer, who has investigated high-profile corruption cases, now has a warrant for his arrest in Guatemala.

A second panelist, Thelma Aldana, former president of Guatemala’s Supreme Court and the country’s former attorney general, was granted asylum in the United States after being forced to leave in 2021, following threats of arrest for 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 the Americas – North, Central and South – says it wants to eradicate. The panel was organized as a preview of the regional summit.

On a website dedicated to the event, the US State Department, which hosts the event, said it was seeking to engage “stakeholders in the region to secure leadership-level commitments and concrete actions.” that significantly improve the response and resilience to the pandemic, promote a green and equitable approach to economic recovery, build strong and inclusive democracies and address the root causes of irregular migration”.

Yet some regional heads of state failed to show up for the summit and showed little willingness to cooperate with the American vision.

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

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

Protesters outside the convention center where the rally was held in Los Angeles endorsed the decision. Some gathered at the start of the summit to protest Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, but also Salvadoran President Nayib Bukele, who has imprisoned 36,000 Salvadorans since late April and suspended some individual freedoms following a wave of violence.

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

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

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

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

“The region desperately needs American support and all kinds of international aid, and instead we spent months thinking about who would be invited to the summit and who would attend rather than the agenda. of the rally,” he said.

As China made economic inroads in many Latin American countries, but particularly in Central America, Biden administration officials sought to assure the region of its economic engagement, including investment projects, and of his interest in seeing Latin America prosper, especially when it comes to democracy.

Panelist Ursula Roldán Andrade said the United States “is the only one that can help” as Guatemala, along with its neighbors, enters a “dark era, a time that signals the loss of institutional democracy,” a era that regains the rule of law, which took 25 years to build, being torn.

The government’s failure to provide a safe environment for its citizens, programs to educate them and defend 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 to solve problems their governments won’t solve, Roldán said, and it will continue if the region’s problems aren’t solved. There is little hope of organizing as a people to elect leaders who will uphold even the minimum of democratic rules, she said.

Some of the exiles on the panel have already met with US Vice President Kamala Harris during her June 2021 trip to Guatemala, during which she was expected to address the administration’s economic commitments to help Central American countries stem the crisis. immigration.

Sandoval said when the meeting took place, Harris talked about prioritizing corruption-related topics.

“It gave us hope,” he said, but over the months, “the truth is, I regret to say, I haven’t noticed any concrete results related to the fight efforts. against corruption,” Harris said.

In response to a question from those who listened to the panel, Sandoval said he hopes the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops will offer a strong statement against some of the ongoing injustices.

“Historically, the Catholic Church has had a leading role” in speaking out against injustices, he said, if only to let others know what is happening in the country.

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

However, in a written note shared via Zoom, he said: “I think the (American episcopal conference) is so big, with divergent positions that I don’t know if they could reach (an opinion) when it comes to is to say a word about injustice and poverty in Guatemala. I know bishops in the United States who are engaged in social struggle from the point of view of the Gospel, but I do not perceive this to be a unanimous position .

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