National Strike! Guatemala Grinds to a Halt for a Day

San Pedro La Laguna, Guatemala

As luck would have it (or not have it…), the beginning of my studies last week at the San Pedro School began just as a political crisis in the country was beginning to unfold. On my first day of class (September 11th), the Guatemalan Congress voted to grant the President, Jimmy Morales, immunity from an ongoing United Nations investigation into his campaign finances. (The investigation is looking into, among other over-the-top forms of corruption, allegations that the Morales’ campaign received money from international drug traffickers.) Then two days later (September 13th), the Guatemalan Congress officially institutionalized corruption by passing two comically self-serving laws: one that shields politicians from prosecution in cases of illegal campaign financing and another that effectively allows anyone with a prison sentence of under 10 years to buy their way out of prison (the clever idea here is that politicians not yet in prison are looking for a way to get their buddies already in prison out of the can). Social media exploded with the hashtag #MiercolesNegro (“#BlackWednesday”) the day these laws were passed. (Seems to me that hashtag would have come in handy in the U.S. on Wednesday, December 9th, 2016.)

One silver lining in all this turmoil is the fact that there is strong protection for freedom of speech. The Prensa Libre is the primary Guatemalan paper, and their coverage of politics essentially reads like the NY Times if you just substitute “Donald Trump” for “every politician in the country.” In order to up my Guatemalan political activism game (as well as my Spanish), I’ve subscribed to the daily edition of the Libre, which has allowed me to spend roughly 40% of my Spanish classes talking to my teacher about the political situation (which certainly beats mulling over the details of Antonio Banderas’s life, an actual exercise I completed last week).

Also positive is that fact that there seems to be strong protection for the right to peacefully protest (e.g. in 2015, Guatemalans protested for 20 straight weekends in the capital until their previous president, Otto Molina resigned amidst scandal). As such, a “National Strike” was declared yesterday in order to allow citizens a day off of work to protest. As an act of solidarity, I refused go to class (i.e. my teacher cancelled class in order to travel to Guatemala City to take to the streets in protest), and I attended my local antigovernment protest here in San Pedro. Given the raucous scene of antigovernment vitriol that I witnessed, I only lasted a few minutes as I was fearful the situation might spiral out of control:

Why protest standing up when you can protest sitting down?

Although the scene in Guatemala City yesterday did seem to take the cake for “most raucous”:

This looks like the real protest

Late last week, the Constitutional Court did in fact suspend the new laws for further review late last week. However, today their Congress voted to maintain the President’s immunity, so it remains to be seen what happens next in this blossoming political crisis. No matter the situation, I’ll be following the situation closely with my trusty Libre and a 4-year-old’s grasp of the situation (given my current level of Spanish comprehension).

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