September 17, 2017:
Members of Congress met to back-peddle on the reforms they had passed on September 13, lightening sentences from jail time to a fine for 400 crimes, including illicit campaign financing, as well as passing a decision to allow unregistered and anonymous campaign contributions (see September 15 email for more explanation).
Despite the cancellation of events for Guatemala’s Independence Day, thousands of people gathered at Congress to demand the resignation of the president, Jimmy Morales and the members of congress who voted for the reforms. Peaceful protesters stood at the entrances of building.
Throughout the evening and into the night, the crowd sang the national anthem, shouted slogans and demanded the resignation of the corrupt politicians. While members of congress were able to leave, upon walking outside they were met with a peaceful but disgruntled crowd who were yelling insults and demanding their resignation. The majority of members of Congress chose to stay inside. Around midnight, riot police in buses pushed through the crowd, shooting tear gas, to reach the parking lot of the building. Injuries have also been reported. All but a few members of Congress got into the police buses and left. The few that remained, including members of the Convergence Party, Leocadio Juarcan, Sandra Moran and Enrique Álvarez, did not leave on the bus, stating they are not afraid of the people and denounced the state violence used against peaceful protesters.
Last night’s violence has been condemned throughout the country. The Convergence Party and the Human Rights Ombudsman’s office put forward injunctions before the Constitutional Court demanding that the President, Ministry of the Interior and the National Civil Police respect the right of citizens to protest. The injunction was accepted by the Court, and reiterated the importance of protecting citizens/
A national strike has been called for Wednesday throughout the country.
September 22, 2017
On Tuesday, September 19, three ministers resigned from the Guatemalan government- the Ministers of the Interior, Finances and Labour. Since then, vice-ministers of the Interior and Finances have also resigned. Representatives of the president have said there are presently no replacements for those positions. The resignation of the ministers has highlighted the ongoing crisis and political instability.
Wednesday, September 20 was a national strike throughout Guatemala. The Office of the Human Rights Ombudsperson estimated that 205,000 people took to the streets in Guatemala City and throughout the departments to demand the resignation of President Jimmy Morales and Vice-president Jafeth Cabrera, as well as the resignation of the 107 members of congress who voted for the “Pact of the Corrupt” last week, lessening penalties for people convicted of illicit campaign financing, as well as allowing unregistered and anonymous campaign donations. Congress backpedaled on this decision on September 16. The show of indignation around Guatemala was a powerful statement on the discontent of the current political and social situation in the country. Below are some photos from the Central Plaza in Guatemala City.
However, the protests were largely ignored in Congress, when on Thursday, September 21, another vote was held on whether or not to revoke President Jimmy Morales’ immunity, the first step to impeachment and a legal investigation. While the number of members of congress who voted to revoke almost doubled the previous vote earlier this month, there were still not enough to pass the motion.
After such widespread protests across the country, this failed vote shows the little will Congress has to respond to the demands of the country, and the fear that these same investigations might turn on themselves.