Oct. 5, 2011
From: REPORT ON POLITICAL INSTABILITY IN GUATEMALA FROM IMPUNITY WATCH
By: Wilson De los Reyes Aragón
Current Guatemalan context reveals political uncertainty, institutional drawback and continuity of a strong military-political-economic influence exerted of informal power structures. These structures are deeply involved with violence from the armed conflict to date. Their survival is closely attached to impunity in Guatemala. More than ever before, impunity from the past creates a perverse effect on current impunity.
Political uncertainty derives from an electoral campaign that actually begun three years ago, but setting a final list of candidates a few days before the general elections day. This particularity is a hallmark of a campaign characterised by violations to several laws, political and street violence, unstable and veering political alliances and dark funding to campaigns by informal power structures.
After primary presidential elections, two runner ups struggle for presidency using virtually endless budgets. Surveys suggest that the former Army’s Chief of Intelligence during the armed conflict, General Otto Perez Molina (Partido Patriota) will be elected as the new President of Guatemala. His victory would mean the return of Military structures to the Government, risking the country’s transition to full democracy. Many Patriota members are former military personnel linked to gross human rights abuses during the armed conflict. According to some Human Rights Activists, General Perez Molina itself was involved in Monseñor Gerardi and Efraim Bamaca assassinations, among other abuses including Genocide and systematic forced disappearances. As President, Perez Molina will be virtually capable of stopping Transitional Justice efforts affecting him and/or his allies.
If, as it was in 2007, Perez Molina loses the runoff again, the next President would be Manuel Baldizon (Partido Lider), a charismatic populist politician well known for adapting to the most convenient political structures. As a relatively new political party, Lider is strong enough to play a relevant role in Congress, but will have no power enough to govern by itself. Due to this reason, an eventual Lider’s Government would have to agree pacts with other groups, mainly those representing traditional power structures, mainly at the local level. Since this structures are closely related to human rights violations during the armed conflict, it is likely that impunity pacts are being agreed as a core condition for supporting Baldizon’s campaign. Particularly, it is usual to find that former “comisionados militares” (military spies in civilian positions) were also powerful local landlords. Therefore, some links have been found between land disputation and human rights violations. Particularly massacres and enforced disappearance. “Impunity pacts” would entail to stop search of victims of the disappeared.
These pacts would lead to a deeper impunity in Guatemala, because economic interests and local dynamics in rural areas rely on actual inequality before the Law. Additionally, according to analysts and data recently released, organised crime has fully infiltrated Guatemalan politics, funding campaigns and gaining local power. Therefore, impunity pacts and stoppage of transitional justice efforts are not unlikely. Since organised crime’s structures in Guatemala can be regarded as a continuous line from the structures behind the armed conflict and current security challenges, violence and impunity can be forecasted as a constant official means for securing an absolute domination of the Guatemalan territory, population and resources. This condition can be verified into the following four examples:
First, several Patriota party members have appealed to their “immune political status” to get rid of being prosecuted for their participation in unclear violent events against common people. Second, progress in impunity reduction has led to threats and violent actions against human rights defenders. In particular, after General Lopez Fuentes was arrested under Genocide accusations, the Association of Guatemalan Former Military (Avemilgua) paid a press advertisement warning the national and international community about their willingness to fight against what they call “senseless manipulations originated in a biased ideological past”. Third, the recently found Police Archives in Quiche region provoked a tough struggle between several state institutions. Whilst the Judiciary wants the archives to remain in Quiche, the Attorney General Office wants them to be joined to the rest of the Police Archive, easing their analysis. These archives data is considered valuable in fighting impunity since they correspond to the 80s decade. Particularly, they can provide critical information related to possible localisation of the disappeared, responsible ones, command chains behind disappearances and causes for choosing a person to be disappeared by the Guatemalan security forces.
Finally, several large indigenous communities have been forcedly evicted in the Polochic Valley. CICIG, CIDH and UN have issued some precautionary measures, field observation trips and preliminary investigations due to the excessive violence exerted against communities, including killings, beatings and house and crops burning. However, it must be highlighted that current aggressors and victims coincide with past attackers and victims. As happened during the armed conflict, violence is exerted by combined military and paramilitary forces. Some of the current victims belong to local victims’ organisations struggling for searching disappeared relatives and also for obtaining land titles. Attacks against them are definitely weakening their organisational structure by dispersing their members and by selective leaders’ assassinations, threatening also their organisational survival in the long run.
An unstable political context facilitates attempts of assuring impunity for power structures, anticipating also an institutional setback in the coming years. Volatility of political alliances makes long term policies and some transitional programmes already run unlikely. The need of a presidential runoff in a context governed by congressional division and no majorities guaranteed may lead to punctual alliances affecting impunity reduction and transitional justice processes. For instance, reform and depuration of the Police forces and other relevant institutions are at risk to be interrupted or terminated. According to the Delegate for Police Reform, for completing this process a sound long term political will and a significant budget allocation are required for at least 10 years. A policy change due to agreements between political parties poses a real threat to this critical transitional process.
On the other hand, some Transitional Prosecution efforts and human rights cases investigation can be also affected by an unstable political context. Continuity of Claudia Paz y Paz as Attorney General is uncertain, as well as the progress reached during her administration. For instance, collaboration between the MP and CICIG’s against organised crime structures and openness to civil society’s fight against human rights cases may decrease and/or stop.
Proposals calling for constitutional amendments announced during political campaign may also lead to relevant setbacks in transitional justice. For instance, militarisation of the Ministry of Government and the use of combined army-police forces will give back the Military the same controversial key role they had during the armed conflict. Such militarisation of the Guatemalan security policy would constitute direct threats to Peace Agreements, risking also some processes proven relevant for transitional justice in Guatemala, such the declassification of military and police archives, the search of the disappeared and reconstruction of truth at the local level.
Constitutional amendments may also reach the Judiciary (two proposals are now being studied by Congress), and may block or terminate investigations which, by the first time in Guatemala, point to the top of the military structures responsible for violating human rights, indicting colonels and generals for abuses committed during the armed conflict. According to a book by a Colom’s former Minister of Economy, during the last four years Patriota Party conditioned its support to some financial draft law to blocking initiatives for investigating human rights cases affecting Patriota former high ranked military party members.
This scenario poses three main challenges to international community and to civil society in Guatemala: a) Strengthening monitoring of Guatemalan state institutions. Particularly, efforts against impunity in a hostile judicial and governmental environment; b) Strengthening local civil society groups’ organisational capacity, improving their skills for interacting with state and international institutions, as well as for networking with other local and national groups; c) Strengthening local civil society groups’ technical capacity for designing, assessing and monitoring relevant policies on transitional justice. In this light, comparative research conducted has shown that the search of the disappeared creates a legitimising effect proven as a key social element for triggering further progress in truth, justice, reparation and non-recurrence.