Countries at the Crossroads 2004 - Guatemala
|Cite as||Freedom House, Countries at the Crossroads 2004 - Guatemala, 2004, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/473868f57c.html [accessed 9 December 2013]|
|Disclaimer||This 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.|
(Scores are based on a scale of 0 to 7, with 0 representing weakest and 7 representing strongest performance.)
Anita Isaacs is an associate professor of political science and the Stinnes Professor of Global Studies at Haverford College. She is currently writing a book on the challenges of confronting the past in postwar Guatemala.
December 2003 marks the seventh anniversary of the peace accords that brought Guatemala's 36-year armed conflict to an official close. In February 1999, the UN-sponsored Commission for Historical Clarification (CEH) issued a report estimating 200,000 Guatemalans to have been either killed or disappeared, the vast majority during the first half of the 1980s. The CEH blamed security forces for 93 percent of these crimes. Based on its documentation of 626 reported massacres accompanied by the destruction and razing of indigenous villages, it also accused the state of attempted genocide of the Guatemalan Mayan population.1
In the intervening years, the Guatemalan political landscape has changed. In a recent overview, the United Nations (UN) Verification Mission in Guatemala (MINUGUA) applauded the transformation. The war has ended, as have state-sanctioned human rights violations. Democratic spaces sealed shut for over four decades have been pried open, permitting enhanced participation by women and the indigenous majority, groups long marginalized politically.
Yet MINUGUA, joined by other international observers including the U.S. State Department and the European Union, largely concurs with the human rights community in cautioning that democracy remains fragile.2 While government ministers have criticized MINUGUA for exaggerating their country's ills, the political will to press forward with reforms outlined in the peace accords has been lacking. As worrisome, the tenure of the Frente Republicano Guatemalteco (FRG) has witnessed a resurgence of remnants of corrupt and repressive forces in power during the height of the armed conflict. Consequently, the human rights situation has deteriorated dramatically, the rule of law remains an aspiration, and corruption is rife, in a political context in which influential groups continue to enjoy impunity and the historically powerless remain politically marginal. The lead-up to elections scheduled for November 9, 2003, was characterized by fraud, intimidation, and violence. The court decision to contravene a constitutional prohibition and allow General Efrain Rios Montt to stand for the presidency as the FRG standard-bearer is especially disturbing.
It is to be hoped that these elections will yield a government resolved to take difficult yet necessary steps to reverse setbacks of the past four years and to collaborate with Guatemalan civil society and the international community in advancing an unfinished peace agenda. Many key reforms and laws have been introduced but must now be observed, while additional legislation is required, particularly in the areas of judicial reform and corruption. Further advances are also required to implement pledges made to reverse centuries of racial discrimination. The future of democracy hangs in the balance, dependent on just such a reversal of course.
Despite a campaign marred by intimidation, violence, and apparent vote buying, Guatemalans went to the polls in greater numbers than ever before on November 9, 2003, with some 58 percent of those registered to vote standing in line for up to six hours to cast ballots. The results conformed to opinion poll predictions, which few Guatemalan observers had dared believe ahead of time. Center-right candidate and leader of the Gran Alianza Nacional (GANA), Oscar Berger, won 37 percent of the vote, sending him into a December run-off against second-place finisher and centrist Alvaro Colom, leader of the Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE), who trailed with just over 27 percent of the vote. Most significantly, however, Guatemalans voiced their rejection of General Rios Montt, whose distant third-place finish (17.78 percent) follows on the heels of his son's forced resignation as army chief of staff under pressure from modernizing sectors of the armed forces. Measures must still be taken to marginalize the parallel, clandestine powers associated with the FRG's tenure. The party remains a force to be reckoned with, retaining 41 of the 158 seats in a newly elected Congress. Nonetheless, Guatemalan democracy appears to have been strengthened by these elections, which may well mark the symbolic closing of a nightmarish chapter in the country's history.
Civil Liberties – 3.70
Guatemalan laws prohibit arbitrary arrest or detention and guarantee the personal integrity and security of those detained. Suspects must be presented with court-issued warrants prior to their arrest, they must appear before a judge within six hours, and they are assured access to counsel and bail for most crimes.
In practice these laws are often disregarded. Illegal and arbitrary arrest and detention are common. A civilian national police (PNC), poorly trained in investigative techniques and human rights, reportedly abuses detainees. Those whose rights are violated are denied means of redress. Authorities tend either to downplay or to disregard claims of torture and other abuse, while recourse to the rule of law is precluded by a weak, politicized judicial system and impediments to obtaining legal counsel.
Post-accord progress in protecting civil and political liberties has been reversed during FRG rule. From July 2001 to June 2002, MINUGUA received 551 complaints of torture and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment, 270 of which were corroborated. It also confirmed 13 instances of extrajudicial executions and 25 failed assassination attempts.3 Preliminary data suggest that MINUGUA correctly forecast 2003 as the most violent year on record since the signing of peace, while the Mutual Support Group (GAM), a local human rights organization, reports 2,101 violations during the first nine months of 2003 alone.
Abuses are carried out principally by a clandestine security apparatus, the remnant of repressive forces in operation during the war. They threaten, harass, and attack human rights activists, lawyers, judges, forensic anthropologists, and even witnesses to recent crimes. The intention is to deter investigations, trials, and convictions for war crimes, thereby perpetuating the impunity historically enjoyed. For the time being they have succeeded. Authorities, including FRG President Alfonso Portillo, acknowledge the existence of a clandestine security apparatus and even its infiltration of government. They also concede a powerlessness to protect citizens from further victimization by these groups.
Government security forces typically respond harshly to strikes and demonstrations. Intervening at the behest of landowners, the police and army often join forces to evict peasants occupying lands to which landowners claim title. When a teachers' strike paralyzed the country for two months in early 2003, the government resorted to more psychological forms of coercion. In a chilling reminder of heavy-handed methods used to quash protest during the internal armed conflict, soldiers were dispatched to assist the PNC in restoring public order.
On July 24, 2003, the governing FRG staged a violent protest of its own when the legal battle over Rios Montt's political eligibility spilled over into the streets. On this occasion, neither police nor soldiers intervened to deter armed mobs bused into the capital. Rios Montt supporters rampaged through the city's fashionable quarter, committing acts of vandalism and attacking presumed opponents. One journalist covering the incident was doused with gasoline; another died of a heart attack while attempting to flee.
Guatemala is a signatory to international human rights conventions banning discrimination against women, its constitution affirms the principle of equality between the sexes, and the government has enacted programs to combat sexual violence and discrimination. Yet these programs are woefully under-funded, and despite mounting pressure from women's organizations, the country's penal codes have only recently added sanctions for some forms of violence against women, resisting the inclusion of sexual harassment.
Some 36 percent of all Guatemalan women who live with a man suffer domestic abuse.4 Women are also frequent victims of other crimes, which tend to go unreported or do not result in convictions. During the first six months of 2003 alone, more than 158 women were murdered, a majority showing signs of rape and torture. Of the 8,989 complaints of violence filed by the national district attorney's office as of November 2001, more than half were archived, and only three resulted in jail sentences for the perpetrators.5
Women are less likely than men to exercise their political rights. In the 1999 elections, less than 37 percent of the votes cast were by women. This was in part a reflection of lower voter registration rates among women: 43 percent of all adult women were registered to vote in 2002, and in rural areas the percentage dipped as low as 28 percent.6 Explanations have focused on the greater tendency of women to lack necessary identification, as well as their higher rate of illiteracy – roughly 70 percent of rural women have never attended school. Finally, the custom of husbands voting in place of their wives prevails in many rural settings.7
Workplace discrimination is widespread, especially in the domestic labor and maquila sectors in which the workforce is predominantly female and many employees are under the age of 18. By excluding domestic workers from its provisions, the labor code denies their rights to an eight-hour workday, minimum wage, and health care. Maquila workers are also routinely deprived of access to health care and tend to face pregnancy discrimination, are usually forced to reveal their reproductive status as a condition of employment, and are regularly denied maternity benefits mandated by Guatemalan law.
Although the trafficking and smuggling of persons is legally prohibited, Guatemala is a source, transit, and destination country for women and children trafficked for the purposes of prostitution and adoption. Guatemala is the fourth-largest world source for adopted children, and estimates suggest that as many as 80 percent of Guatemalan adoptions are illegal. The government has recently passed legislation protecting children's rights, including provisions to regulate adoption procedures. Yet it does not display the necessary resolve to curb a highly profitable business in which some officials are reportedly involved.8
Indigenous people constitute at least 52 percent of the Guatemalan population.9 In addition to more than 22 distinct Mayan ethnic groups, the country is home to the indigenous Xinca and Garifuna. Guatemala's ethnic diversity is enshrined in its constitution, which commits the government to recognize, respect, and promote indigenous lifestyles, customs, traditions, forms of social organization, manner of dress, and language. That pledge was redoubled in a landmark peace accord on indigenous rights and identity, which affirmed the multiethnic and pluricultural character of the Guatemalan state. The agreement (together with aspects of other accords) also outlined a broad set of reforms designed to translate words into deeds.
Some positive steps have been taken, usually in response to pressure from a combination of increasingly well-organized indigenous groups and the international community. For example, access to Mayan ceremonial sites has been eased, the president has established a commission on racism, and legislation has been introduced recognizing 23 indigenous languages and mandating that state institutions provide services in those languages. Efforts have also been made to improve access to justice by contracting interpreters, providing lawyers, and hiring judges who speak indigenous languages. Yet these measures are insufficient. As UN special rapporteur Rodolfo Stavenhagen observed, "Far from being full and equal partners in the construction of modern Guatemala, indigenous peoples are largely excluded, discriminated against and marginalized."10 Part of that discrimination is expressed in the government's failure to address extreme levels of poverty among indigenous Guatemalans.11
Discrimination is also reflected in the half-heartedness of reform measures introduced. Racism remains embedded, expressed, for example, in children being barred from wearing traditional dress to school and in the June 2002 denial of entry to a restaurant by an indigenous activist because she was wearing traditional dress. Spanish remains the sole official language, and implementation of the language law requires too substantial an infusion of funds to be effective.
Provisions for the free practice of religion enshrined in the Guatemalan constitution are generally respected. Still, indigenous leaders press for greater government recognition of Mayan spiritual practices and customs, and the human rights community has noted with alarm murders of five Mayan priests between October 2002 and May 2003.
The Guatemalan constitution and its labor code recognize the freedom of association and the right to form and join trade unions without compelling individuals to belong to any given association. Since the enactment of the peace accords, the ministry of labor has streamlined the union registration process and promoted greater labor-management cooperation, stipulated in the socioeconomic accord. However, workers continue to face impediments to their right to organize, strike, and bargain collectively. Some are legal and bureaucratic. More significantly, employers regularly circumvent labor code provisions, firing workers who seek to unionize or disregarding agreements reached. They also take advantage of a weak labor ministry, an ineffectual judicial system, and a general reluctance of the state to side with workers in confronting the business community.
Citizens are not compelled to join associations, and these have burgeoned since the signing of the peace accords, despite bureaucratic requirements for registration. Technically, civic associations and business and political organizations enjoy freedom of peaceful assembly. However, the governing FRG, its supporters, and extra-state organizations have increasingly disrupted public events staged by civic and political opponents, attacking individual leaders and ransacking their offices.
The newly elected government must act swiftly to reverse the deterioration in civil liberties experienced over the past four years. A willingness to identify, confront, and root out the clandestine groups responsible for much of the violence would represent a positive first step because it would improve security and help foster trust between government and civic groups. The newly elected administration should also endeavor to collaborate directly with civil society to alleviate residual forms of discrimination. Many of the reforms required are outlined in the indigenous and socioeconomic accords but await action; in other cases, legislation introduced, such as the language law, must translate into genuine reform. Attention should also be paid to enacting comprehensive educational reforms that both improve access for disadvantaged groups and permit the revision of curriculums in ways that tackle persistent prejudice.
Rule of Law – 2.66
The constitution affirms the independence of the judiciary, while the Peace Agreement on Strengthening Civil Society and the Role of the Army in a Democratic Society asserts the need for reform to counteract structural weaknesses inherent in the country's justice system. However, the U.S. State Department's 2003 report on human rights practices finds that, despite these promises, Guatemala's judicial system remains inefficient, corrupt, and politicized, plagued by insufficient funds and personnel and by threats to judges, prosecutors, and witnesses. Amnesty International concurs, noting that "Guatemala's judicial system is ... unable to operate or to assure citizens their rights. Nor is it combating impunity."12
The problem manifests itself in a sequence of delays, notably when trials involve military officers. In violation of international conventions that Guatemala has ratified, cases drag on for years, delayed in both the investigative and the prosecutorial phases. Once a trial is under way, convictions are postponed as defense lawyers file motions and cases wind their way through a lengthy appeals process. As a result, government authorities have rarely been placed in situations requiring them to comply with unpopular judicial decisions. The resulting impunity has led the human rights community to seek recourse in international tribunals and universal jurisdiction. Some nine cases pertaining to Guatemala, the largest number of any Latin American country, have either been heard or remain pending before the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. Petitions have been submitted for war crimes cases to be tried in Spanish and Belgian courts.13
Inefficiency and infighting bear partial responsibility for the situation. Police officers are poorly trained in investigative procedures, there is no central filing system to handle caseloads accumulating in prosecutors' offices, and the PNC and district attorney often find themselves at jurisdictional loggerheads. Also, state funding serves both to maintain a weak judicial system and as a means of political pressure. The resources allocated are insufficient; the assigned budget for 2002 was 12 percent less than that of the preceding year, and the 2004 allocation is equivalent to less than half the amount requested.14 Judges assert that budget cuts are retaliation for court decisions allowing the prosecution of FRG congressmen,15 and institutions involved in the training of officials charged with the administration of justice were particularly hard hit by budget cuts.
Judges, prosecutors, and other law-enforcement personnel are bribed and intimidated, are forced to resign, and often flee into exile. During the first five months of 2003 alone, 47 judges were attacked, while the offices of four human rights ombudsmen were ransacked, with case files and equipment stolen. The government's failure to carry out its pledge to provide judges with security has prompted some 75 percent of judges to hire personal bodyguards and the Supreme Court to create its own security unit and offer subsidized life insurance.16
The judicial process is also highly politicized. Political parties nominate judges to the Judicial Body, Supreme Court, and Constitutional Court in accordance with the number of seats each holds in Congress. Politicization has a ripple effect, as the Supreme Court is responsible for overseeing judicial decisions as well as naming, transferring, and dismissing lower court and appeal judges. Magistrates allege that the colleagues involved in seeking trials for perpetrators of past human rights violations are those targeted for dismissal.
The structure of the judicial system has meant that justice is rarely served and authorities rarely forced to comply with unpopular findings. When they do, stacked courts permit decisions to be reversed. According to the special prosecutor, judges on the fourth appeals court, who overturned watershed verdicts finding military officers guilty in the murders of anthropologist Myrna Mack and Bishop Juan Gerardi, had close ties to the military.17 Similarly, the four judges of the Constitutional Court (the highest review body on constitutional matters), who voted to allow Rios Montt's presidential candidacy, were all FRG appointees and individuals with party connections; the president of the court served as FRG minister of the interior.
According to the constitution, those charged with criminal offenses are presumed innocent until proven guilty and guaranteed the right to a fair and public hearing by a competent, independent, and impartial tribunal. In practice, however, few trials ensure the rule of law. In addition to the above-mentioned constraints, due process is compromised by widespread tampering with evidence and intimidation of witnesses. A witness protection program established under the aegis of the public prosecutor's office has not been allocated the resources needed to enable it to function as intended.
Access to independent counsel is beyond the means of most Guatemalans. The recent closing of the public defender's office has left the poor majority to rely almost exclusively on legal assistance provided by a handful of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) interested primarily in bringing perpetrators of wartime abuses to justice. Public perceptions that the judicial system is inadequate may help explain the tendency for citizens to take justice into their own hands, expressed in the widespread practice of lynching.
The Peace Agreement on Strengthening Civil Society and the Role of the Army in a Democratic Society envisioned a reformed armed forces, guarantor of external security and subordinate to civilian authorities. Here too, modest early gains have been set back, first by the failure to ratify proposed constitutional changes including military reform and then by the FRG victory, which marked the political ascendancy of a party tied to the most nefarious sectors of the armed forces.
Guatemala's police force is poorly trained and equipped. Rather than bolster the police, the government has opted to rely increasingly on the military to perform policing functions. Whereas $1.75 million was allocated to the police academy this year, $12.5 million was apportioned for military training.18 The military has also been deployed to participate in joint policing operations with the PNC. On occasion it takes control of security, acting independently and requiring local police chiefs to submit copies of their reports to military commanders.19 Recent defense ministry announcements of the creation of new military police units to assist police in controlling disturbances suggest an institutionalization of these practices.20
In addition, elements within the military still wield substantial political power. At the local level, civil defense committees and military commissioners continue to occupy leadership roles in political and development councils and to serve as auxiliary mayors in the very communities where they oversaw wartime atrocities. Evidence suggests that these local actors preserve "ongoing ties to the military."21 Equally worrisome is the remobilization of the civil defense patrols (PAC) beginning in March 2002, their members demanding compensation promised during the FRG's 1999 electoral campaign.
Local power is matched by heightened military influence in national politics. Active and retired army officers have served in important public positions during the past four years, notably as minister of defense but also as minister of the interior. Military political influence is also exercised less directly. In violation of the peace accords, the military-run presidential guard (EMP) has yet to be replaced by a civilian intelligence structure, and the EMP and defense remain favored sectors in the allocation of government funds.
Finally, as noted above, there is "evidence of a clandestine network of civilian and military officials assigned officially to parts of the executive and judicial branch."22 These forces are widely perceived to be responsible for the wave of political violence experienced over the past several years, especially since March 2002. Their foothold within the executive and judicial branches and their military ties have enabled them to subvert the rule of law and democratic governance.
The government pledged to disband the EMP by October 31, 2003, and, in response to pressure from human rights organizations and the ombudsmen, agreed to establish a Commission to Investigate Illegal Armed Groups and Clandestine Security Apparatus (CICIACS). Observers fear, however, that EMP members will merely be recycled into other security functions, and they cite delays in constituting a CICIACS that was scheduled to begin work September 13, 2003.
The Guatemalan constitution affords equal rights to all its citizens, and while it does not make explicit mention of equality before the courts and tribunals, it does ensure legal guarantees for detainees. As noted, the legal rights of women and children are often violated. In addition, observers document a "no-rights underworld," whose membership includes "street children, sex workers ... youth gangs, jailed persons, petty delinquents and transient migrants."23
While the state pledges to respect and enforce property rights, only the rights of some are respected. Government foot-dragging on its pledge to implement an integrated rural development policy, including land registries, transfers, and adjudication, has provoked considerable rural violence of late, as poverty-stricken peasants seize land to which they claim title.
The 2004 budget must be revised to permit the strengthening of key judicial institutions, including the civilian police and the court system. The further expansion of rural tribunals, incorporation of customary law, and provision of services in indigenous languages, along with the revival of the public defender's office could persuade Mayan communities that the legal process serves their needs, thereby diminishing rural violence. The judicial system also requires further modernization to speed up and streamline the trial process. Even more significantly, judicial autonomy must be enhanced. This could be achieved by the introduction of legislation designed to depoliticize judicial appointments and by a commitment to enabling judicial officials to perform their tasks – tackling impunity and working to guarantee that justice is served – without threat to their lives and livelihood.
Anticorruption and Transparency – 2.47
For the past several years, the international community has supported government and civil society efforts to root out corruption. Multilateral financial organizations have underwritten fiscal reform efforts. New laws have focused on improving the legal and institutional framework within which banks operate, heightening transparency, streamlining operations, and improving the regulation of financial transactions. The government has also introduced legislation specifically designed to combat money laundering. Internal auditing systems have been upgraded, tax evasion tribunals established, and the autonomy, powers, and selection process governing the comptroller general have been revamped.
The country's economy has also been reformed. Decentralization has enhanced local input into development planning and promoted the spread of transparent practices to community and municipal governments.24 Public enterprises have been privatized and trade has been liberalized.
However, Guatemala continues to be perceived as among the most corrupt countries in the world, ranked 81 out of 102 nations surveyed by Transparency International. The international financial watchdog, the Financial Action Task Force, declined to remove Guatemala from its list of non-cooperative countries in the fight against money laundering, making it the only Latin American nation remaining on the black list. And in August 2003, the United States revealed that Guatemala figures among the countries being investigated for money laundering. In a recent press conference, President Portillo ranked the failure to tackle corruption as the greatest shortcoming of his administration. Guatemalans surveyed in opinion polls consider corruption the most important challenge facing their country.25
The FRG government has been beset by a seemingly endless series of corruption scandals. For instance, the ministries of the interior, communications, housing, and education, as well as the secretariat of tax administration, the superintendent of telecommunications, the director of immigration, and the head of the Guatemalan Institute of Social Security have all been charged with fraud. The Portillo government is also involved in scandals, including one in which several frontmen are accused of using $1.5 million in state funds to open up bank accounts in Panama on behalf of the president, vice president, and other high-ranking FRG officials.26
Because corruption scandals have focused on the government, they have undermined citizens' trust in their political institutions. Corruption has also hindered fulfillment of peace accord pledges to enhance state contributions to social development and to raise tax revenue to 12 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP).
There is no effective legislation guaranteeing appropriate ethical standards and establishing clear boundaries between public office and personal interests. A probity law passed in 2002 provided for financial disclosure but stopped short of making that information public. Conflict-of-interest legislation, including reforms to the penal code, has yet to be seriously considered, and internal auditing procedures are insufficiently widespread. Meanwhile, victims of corruption are denied the legal means to seek redress.27
Governmental transparency is lacking. Measures outlined in the fiscal pact of 2000, negotiated by the government, civil society, and the private sector, have not been implemented. There is little scrutiny of the executive, and the legislature does not have sufficient oversight capacity. Bidding for government contracts is not open, an access to information law currently under consideration has not been passed, tax auditing and monitoring laws are insufficient, and the budgetary process is highly secretive. Opposition deputies have raised concerns regarding dubious transfers of funds among government ministries and agencies that appear to end up in military spending and, increasingly, in FRG campaign coffers. Officials justify the secrecy surrounding military expenditures in national interest terms, but critics suggest that the intention is to disguise military spending figures consistently above the 0.66 percent of GDP established in the peace accords.28
In the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch, foreign donors put in place oversight procedures to monitor assistance programs in the region. In the Guatemalan case, there have been allegations of questionable dealings by the ministries of both defense and agriculture, the latter accused of selling fertilizer donated by Japan.29
In 2003, an attempt was made to crack down on public officials implicated in corruption scandals. To date, many have evaded prosecution by obstructing investigations or fleeing the country, while Portillo associates accused of transferring funds to Panama continue to serve in government.30 At the time of this writing, the former president of the Guatemalan Social Security Institute and presumed architect of the embezzlement scheme, is the only major figure to have been convicted and sentenced.
Investigations into charges of corruption are tainted by credible allegations of bias. Although technically chosen by lottery, congressional committees selected to conduct these investigations tend to comprise FRG members in their majority. Even in rare instances when the opposition dominates the committee, the draft report produced is submitted for review, approval, and follow-up to a congressional plenary dominated by the FRG.
Civic organizations and the international community have joined forces in a concerted campaign to draw attention to the problem of graft, propose policy initiatives, and pressure the government to take remedial action. Guatemalan journalists have played an active role in publicizing acts of corruption – a step that has led to efforts to discredit, harass, and threaten media opponents. In addition, a national transparency and anti-corruption commission convening policy makers and civic leaders was established in December 2002, and an anticorruption special prosecutor was set up under the auspices of the attorney general's office in spring 2003. However, the commission was disbanded before its work officially began because of a corruption scandal of its own, and two government-appointed anticorruption special prosecutors have resigned in face of government efforts to thwart their investigations. In addition, while the mandate for the proposed CICIACS includes an investigation into alleged connections between clandestine groups responsible for human rights violations and organized crime, it is not clear when the commission will initiate its work.
It is imperative that the newly elected government collaborate with civic groups and the international community in taking immediate steps to tackle corruption. Part of the challenge is legislative: observing the significant fiscal reforms recently introduced and passing tightened and further laws that guard against conflict of interest and enhance governmental transparency. The government must also provide an environment in which judicial investigations into graft can proceed unimpeded. The CICIACS should be established promptly and its findings and recommendations translated into swift actions that not only target previous administrations but safeguard against future acts of corruption.
Accountability and Public Voice – 3.84
The constitution provides Guatemalan citizens with the right to change their government peacefully, through free and fair elections held every four years, on the basis of universal suffrage for adults 18 years and older. The ballot is secret, and elections are monitored by independent authorities. The president and vice president are both elected.
Nine national elections have been held since the formal return to civilian rule in 1985, including one since the signing of peace accords in 1996. The first round of a second post-accord election was scheduled for November 2003.
Guatemala has a system of proportional representation, which encourages multipartism. Four parties and two coalitions secured legislative seats in the 1999 elections, which also witnessed a transfer of power from the National Advancement Party (PAN) to the FRG. The parties registered to compete in the forthcoming election represent a diverse range of political views and policy options.
Civil servants are selected on the basis of merit and expected to serve the public rather than any partisan political interest. However, in the absence of conflict-of-interest legislation, political party and personal ties remain an influential factor in the allocation of jobs in public administration.
Indigenous people are poorly represented in public office. Although they comprise at least half the population, the current administration contains only one Mayan minister, and only 14 of the 113 deputies elected to Congress in 1999 were indigenous. Women have fared no better. Three ministers in the outgoing government were female, one of these the Mayan minister of communication, and there are 10 congresswomen in the legislature. Only 34 of the 158 candidates competing for Congress on the nationwide list in November 2003 were women.31
Campaign financing does not ensure fairness. Parties that win 4 percent of the vote in the preceding electoral contest are entitled to only a tiny sum per vote obtained as funding for their next campaign. The bulk of campaign financing is thus private, and parties are not obliged to disclose their sources. This tends to enhance the propensity for clientelism, a situation that prevailed in 1999 and appears to explain some of the bank fraud that ensued. The concern today is that powerful individuals will once more seek to trade votes for later favors.
Electoral legitimacy is further undermined by political pressure and manipulation as the FRG seeks to win the votes of poor Guatemalans. Opposition deputies credibly charge the government with transferring funds into ministries or agencies controlled by the president's entourage, so as to enable the current government to bolster its popularity through the administration of public works projects and the provision of tools and fertilizers for indigenous communities. Rural communities in various departments have echoed these claims, complaining that the sale of fertilizer, the distribution of development assistance, and the provision of scholarships and even school lunches are all increasingly conditioned on their willingness to affiliate with the FRG.32
At the time of writing, credible allegations of political fraud threatened to undermine the integrity of the November 2003 elections further. In August, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal announced that 45 percent of the army appeared on electoral rolls, despite a constitutional ban on the military's right to vote. And in late September, the domestic observer mission discovered discrepancies between voter registration figures and the census, raising fears that electoral lists had been falsified.33
The campaign was also marred by intimidation and violence. A non-violence pact, agreed to by political leaders at the outset of the campaign, was disregarded. Between May and October, political groups challenging the FRG were subjected to 20 violent attacks on their candidates and staff, including 14 assassinations.34 Equally troubling are the riots of July 24 and 25, which were orchestrated by Rios Montt and his supporters only days after the former dictator warned that, should the courts block his candidacy, violence could occur.
The tense political mood of this electoral period suggests continuity with patterns of governance that have defined the FRG administration. As discussed above, clandestine groups have sought to disrupt popular political organizing. These groups, to be investigated by the CICIACS, are presumed to have connections to the country's counterinsurgent apparatus and to organized crime. Moreover, the state has done little to curb their activities.
Despite the threats, Guatemala's civil sector continues to be active and independent. Human rights and democracy organizations as well as indigenous and women's groups are especially prominent. The government allows them to operate without restrictions, to receive funding from the international donor community, and to develop international ties. There exist few formal channels of communication between civil society and the political realm, and the relationship between the two remains fraught. Nonetheless, the NGO community has taken an active role in pushing for policy reform on a broad range of issues.
The government provides neither regular nor timely access to information about policy initiatives. Its congressional Web site lists information about organizational structure and existing laws but offers no link to pending legislation.35 Civic groups performs this function. As part of its mandate, Accion Ciudadana provides citizens with the information needed for analysis and assessment of the legislative process.36
The constitution guarantees press freedom. In January 2002, the Constitutional Court suspended a recently enacted law that would have forced all journalists to belong to a professional association and to acquire a government license on the grounds that the legislation would have infringed on freedoms of expression and association. The government does not attempt to control the media and has generally not sued, sanctioned, or imprisoned reporters for critical commentary. However, all four television stations are owned by a Mexican citizen who is viewed as pro-government and reluctant to scrutinize or even to air controversial issues. By contrast, the print media are much more critical of the government and its policies. Guatemalan newspapers are owned by opponents of the FRG government, and their reporters have given extensive coverage to corruption scandals and human rights violations.
Yet the government does seek to discredit its media critics. By refraining from enforcing laws to protect reporters, the government leaves journalists to fend for themselves, exercising self-censorship or running the risk of becoming victims of the violations they report. Indicative once more of the plausible link between clandestine organizations, organized crime, sectors of the military, and government circles, journalists and publishers who choose to remain outspoken critics find themselves included on the growing hit list – subjected to the same kinds of intimidation and attack suffered by the human rights and legal communities, peasant and labor leaders, and the political opposition.
Enhanced accountability and public voice require the introduction of campaign finance, conflict-of-interest, and transparency laws. The government must also do more to protect the freedom of speech of its citizens, representatives of civic organizations, and the media. This requires a crackdown on clandestine groups that have targeted those committed to exposing abuses and pursuing justice. The incoming government would also be well served by heeding United National Development Program criticism of deeply engrained machista and racist attitudes, which tend to view women as relegated to the home and indigenous people as backward and rural, lacking both power and education. Indigenous and women's groups are formulating concrete proposals designed to foster greater political participation, whether through discrete measures such as voter registration drives and quotas on party lists or longer term educational reforms intended to tackle the persistent marginalization of these groups. The government should enhance collaboration with these sectors, premised on the understanding that recommendations will translate into action, as this would, by its very nature as well as through its policy outcomes, contribute to the expanded political participation of women and the Mayan population.
1 Commission for Historical Clarification (Comision de Esclarecimiento Historico [CEH]), Guatemala Memoria del Silencio, (Guatemala: CEH, 1999), 20, 38-43, 83.
2 United Nations Verification Mission in Guatemala (Mision de Verificacion de las Naciones Unidas en Guatemala [MINUGUA]), Executive Summary, MINUGUA Report to the Consultative Group Meeting for Guatemala (Guatemala: MINUGUA, 7 May 2003), 2; Guatemala, Country Reports on Human Rights Practices (Washington, DC: U.S. Dept. of State, Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, 31 March 2003), 2; and Joint Declaration of the EU on the Follow-up Process of the Consultative Group Meeting (Guatemala: European Union, 13-14 May 2003), http://europa.eu.int/comm/external_relations/guatemala/docs/consult.pdf.
3 MINUGUA, Thirteenth Report on Human Rights (New York: UN General Assembly, 22 August 2002), 6.
4 Guatemala: Supporting Poverty Reduction and Sustainable Development (Guatemala City, Guatemala: Inter-American Development Bank (IDB), May 2003), 12.
5 Informe Nacional de Desarrollo Humano (Guatemala City, Guatemala: UN System in Guatemala, 2002), 161-62.
6 See "Gender and Political Participation" (Stockholm: International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA), http://www.idea.int/gender/turnout/guatemala.htm; Guatemala: Una Agenda para el Desarrollo Humano (Guatemala City, Guatemala: UNDP – Programa de las Naciones Unidas para el Desarrollo [PNUD]), 2003), 237.
7 Ibid.; Guatemala Human Rights Update, vol. 15, no. 10 (Washington, DC: Guatemala Human Rights Commission (GHRC/USA), 15 May 2003), 5.
8 Guatemala's Lethal Legacy: Past Impunity and Renewed Human Rights Violations (London: Amnesty International, 2002), 38.
9 Figures are approximate; these are cited in Guatemala (IDB), 12.
11 Guatemala: Una Agenda (UNDP), ch. 1, 12-13; "Anexo Estadistico" (UNDP), http://www.pnudguatemala.org/informesdesarrollohumano/idh2003/
12 Country Reports (U.S. Dept. of State); Guatemala's Lethal Legacy (Amnesty International), 4.
13 Ibid., 41-42.
14 Elder Interiano, "Justicia a merced del partido oficial," Prensa Libre, 21 September 2003, http://www.prensalibre.com/pls/prensa/detnoticia.jsp?p_cnoticia=67582&p_fedicion=21-09-03.
15 Country Reports (U.S. Dept. of State), 14.
16 Supreme Court of Justice and Judges and Magistrates Association, Update, 15, 9 (GHRC/USA, 1 May 2003), 6.
17 Update, 15, 10 (GHRC/USA, 15 May 2003), 1.
18 Update, 15, 7 (GHRC/USA, 1 April 2003), 7.
19 Guatemala: Una Agenda (UNDP), 7; Guatemala's Lethal Legacy (Amnesty International), 12.
20 Gema Palencia, "Policia apoyara a PNC," Prensa Libre, 23 July 2003, http://www.prensalibre.com/pls/prensa/detnoticia.jsp?p_cnoticia=61366&p_fedicion=23-07-03&searchtext=policia+militar.
21 Thirteenth Report (MINUGUA), 11.
23 Guatemala: Corrupting State and Society (Foundation for Human Rights in Guatemala, Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA, Guatemala Peace and Development Network, and New York Office of the Rigoberta Menchu Foundation, May 2003), http://www.ghrc-usa.org/resources/redporlapaz.pdf, 5.
24 See, for instance, News Release No. 2002/381/LAC (World Bank); Press Release No. 02/16 (International Monetary Fund [IMF]); Data Sheet for Strategic Objective 520-001, FY 2003 (USAID); Guatemala (IDB), http://www.usaid.gov/our_work/democracy_and_governance/regions/lac/520-001.pdf; and MINUGUA, Eighth Report on Verification of Peace Agreements (New York: United Nations General Assembly, August 2003), 12.
25 Guatemala (IDB), 11.
26 See "Guatemala: Transparency Campaign in Turbid Waters," Inforpress, http://www.inforpressca.com/CAR/guatema.htm; Pablo Rodas-Martini, "Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean," Global Corruption Report (Berlin: Transparency International, 2003) 90-91; Prensa Libre, 12 August 2003; El Periodico, 8 September 2003.
27 See discussion in Guatemala (IDB).
28 See MINUGUA, Eighth Report, 10-12.
29 Global Corruption Report 2003 (Transparency International), 90-93.
30 Guatemala Deep Cause for Concern (London: Amnesty International, April 2003), 4.
31 Figures taken from Country Reports (U.S. Dept. of State), 4, 20; Prensa Libre, 18 August 2003; and Women in National Parliaments (Geneva: Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2003), http://www.ipu.org/wmn-e/classif.htm.
32 See, for instance, Guatemala: Legitimacy on the Line (London: Amnesty International, September 2003), 5.
33 Marvin del Cid, "Censo y Padron no Coinciden," Prensa Libre, 19 September 2003, http://www.prensalibre.com/pls/prensa/detnoticia.jsp?p_cnoticia=67434&p_fedicion=19-09-03.
34 Martin Rodriguez, "OEA demanda acciones contra violencia electoral," Prensa Libre, 20 September 2003.