Guatemala Political Reviews
The political climate is characterized by great distrust of the authorities, the media, and private actors among the citizens. The frustration in society is reflected in a growing distrust of democracy. While 50 percent of the population in 1996 believed that democracy was preferable to dictatorship, only 41 percent of the population of Guatemala believed the same in 2013. The dissatisfaction among Guatemalans also applies to the economy, distribution of wealth in the country, the justice system, political parties and public privatization. services. It is no wonder then that the two institutions Guatemalans have the greatest faith in are the family and the church.
The unstable political terrain is mirrored in many parties that are frequently replaced. One reason for this is that history is colored by dictatorships and civil war. Democracy lacks tradition and there are few parties with anchoring in society. Not a single party has succeeded in being re-elected for 30 years. One strategy that is widely used to continue their interests in spite of this is to form new parties. New parties from one term to another make it difficult to navigate the country’s political landscape. In general, we find most parties on the right, while the oldest party is the left-wing URNG founded in 1982. The party previously served as an umbrella organization for several guerrilla groups, and in 1998 became a political party.
Historically, access to and distribution of land is one of the country’s oldest political problems. Soil has a huge impact on most Guatemalans: About half of the country’s 15 million inhabitants live in rural areas, and agriculture is their main source of food and labor. Guatemala’s agricultural structure has not changed since it took shape in the late 1800s, and the land and natural resources are distributed among few hands. Although land reform was initiated after the signing of the peace agreements, about two percent of the population still owns about 60 percent of the arable land. Land reform following the peace agreements was market driven and resulted in very little land being redistributed in practice.
Grassroots organizations and trade unions, human rights
The conflicts that have attracted the most attention are related to metal and mineral extraction and hydropower plants. Based on Guatemalan legislation, rural areas have been opened to international capital and to transnational corporations, without the local people having any influence. In practice, territorial and individual rights have been weakened. All of this is the backdrop to the fight that grassroots organizations are waging.
The local population’s response to how the projects are established is to organize and conduct local consultations, where the local people have the opportunity to express their opinion on the projects. In addition to being an important legal instrument for the local population, the consultations represent specific demands on the state for political and democratic participation in local and national decision-making processes. These consultations are supported by Guatemalan legislation, as well as by the International Convention on Indigenous Rights, known as ILO Convention No. 169. So far, however, no recovery projects have been stopped by the consultations.
Between 2017 and 2018, 884 attacks against human rights activists were registered in the country. 39 of these attacks were killings. The situation of people defending their earth against extractive companies, activists working for justice, journalists, union leaders and indigenous peoples is as bad now as during the civil war.
International relations and investments
According to Countryaah, Guatemala has been aiming to attract new investors since the 1990s through multilateral or bilateral free trade agreements or investment agreements. To implement this policy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is cooperating with the Ministry of Finance and several private actors.
The United States is still one of the most important supporters of Guatemala. The free trade agreements with the United States, Mexico and Canada, Chile, Colombia, the Dominican Republic and Taiwan, have opened new commercial doors for Guatemalan products, especially sugar, palm oil and minerals.
The last 15 years have seen a significant increase in transnational corporations’ natural resource extraction in Guatemala. This growth is linked to the increased demand for natural resources such as metals and minerals, biofuels, oil and clean energy from international markets. At the same time, there has been an explosion of social unrest and movements towards the extractive industry. The response from the authorities has been to criminalize the protests and activists.
Relations with Norway
Through investments from Norfund, Norway is involved in environmental conflicts in Guatemala. However, it is important to point out that this is most often indirect. A prominent case is Norfund’s, as well as the World Bank’s, involvement in the hydropower project in Santa Cruz Barillas, Huehuetenango. Although Norfund has withdrawn the investments, they have not remedied the negative consequences the project had for the local population. There has been a serious criminalization of Protestants, increased violence, killings, militarization, and declaration of state of emergency in 2013 due to demonstrations against the hydropower plant.
A precarious situation
There has been an extreme increase in migration from Guatemala in recent years. The reasons why people migrate are many and complex. Guatemala is in an area that is largely affected by climate change and we are already seeing serious negative changes. This provides a lack of food security which contributes to a poor and uncertain financial future situation, as well as the fact that large sections of the population are malnourished. The poorest are severely discriminated against; They are strategically excluded from the policy and therefore have limited participation in decision making regarding themselves. With a history that has failed the majority of the population and a current situation characterized by institutionalized violence and one of the world’s worst murder statistics, one can understand that distrust is great and that there is little future hope for many Guatemalans.