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Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Guatemala

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 10 July 2008
Cite as Freedom House, Enabling Environments for Civic Movements and the Dynamics of Democratic Transition - Guatemala, 10 July 2008, available at: [accessed 26 May 2016]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Period of democratic transition: 1996
Pro-democracy civic movement: not present

After the onset of the civil war in 1960, the dominant military greatly restricted the constitutional powers of the civilian administration. Political and civic expression was curtailed, while political and criminal violence targeted politicians, student organizations, labor unions, and media. An estimated 200,000 Guatemalans ultimately died in the struggle between the right-wing, U.S.-backed government and the left-wing, Marxist-Leninist guerrillas.

Despite this history of dictatorships and guerrilla insurgency, a civilian government was elected in 1985. The early 1990s saw a shift toward peace as the Soviet Union collapsed and both sides lost their international backing. Right-wing businessman Jorge Serrano, who had been elected president in 1991, attempted a self-coup in 1993 by dissolving the legislature. Although the armed forces initially supported Serrano, they eventually withdrew support amid mass protests and international pressure. An alliance of unions, business sector moderates, and civil groups pressured Congress into choosing Ramiro de Leon Carpio, who was elected president in 1993. Constitutional reforms were agreed to by Congress and the executive, and in 1994 the legislature was revived and a 13-member Supreme Court was designated. In 1995, a UN human rights monitoring mission was established to enforce the rights of indigenous peoples, the primary victims of the long-running civil war. That year, only 46.8 percent of eligible voters turned out to cast their ballots. In December 1996, a peace treaty was signed, the guerrillas were demobilized, and Alvaro Arzu and his Partido de Avanzada Nacional (National Advancement Party) won the presidential and National Congress elections.

Later elections were followed by poor management, internal power struggles, dissatisfaction over lack of government reforms, and violent riots. The stubbornness of the military to accept democratic changes and admit its role in civil war atrocities, violent demonstrations, and intimidation of elected officials has made government efforts to validate democracy challenging.

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