Guatemalan anti-graft activists: From sit-ins to seats in Congress

By David Toro Escobar

Guatemala City, Jul 27 (EFE).- In 2015, Samuel Perez and Andrea Reyes, then students at a Jesuit university in this capital, were among the thousands of mainly young Guatemalans who gathered outside Congress to protest corruption in the administration of President Otto Perez Molina.

Eight years later, Perez is nearing the end of his first term in the legislature and preparing for the second, while Reyes is looking forward to taking up her seat next January.

Law student Reyes was 25 and Perez, an economics major, was 23 when they became acquainted during an occupation of Guatemala City’s Constitution Square.

What began, in Perez’s words, as “a way of channeling the indignation” became Movimiento Semilla (Seed), a social-democratic party that won 23 seats in the June 25 election, the best result ever for a party of the left in Guatemala.

In the course of the mobilization against Perez Molina, who was driven from office and remains in prison, people came together to work for “change that allows us to bring down the regime of corruption,” Reyes says.

At the time of the protests, one of Samuel Perez’s professors at Rafael Landivar University invited him to join a political discussion group called Semilla, who met at a bookstore in the capital.

Several participants, including Samuel, decided to found a political party and in 2018, Movimiento Semilla obtained legal recognition.

“Without the protests in the square in 2015, many of us would not have organized and we would not have today the possibility of making changes for the country and confronting the regime that keeps so many subjugated in poverty and obliges thousands of Guatemalans to emigrate,” Andrea Reyes says.

On June 25, Semilla not only won 23 congressional races, but its presidential candidate, Bernardo Arevalo de Leon, shocked Guatemala’s political class by finishing second and qualifying for a runoff on Aug. 20 against former first lady Sandra Torres.

Since then, the rightist administration of outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei, who cannot seek re-election due to the constitution’s one-term limit, has gone on the attack against Semilla, trying to outlaw the party and remove Arevalo from the ballot for the second round.

And while the Constitutional Court has ruled that Semilla cannot be banned in the middle of the election process, prosecutors have carried out searches of the party’s headquarters and issued arrest warrants for party officials.

“We represent the interests of the people that’s why they want to get rid of us,” Andrea says. “They are afraid, because with us governing it will be difficult for them to remain unpunished.”

Parties ranging from center-right to right have been in power since the restoration of democracy in 1986 and this year marks the first time in nearly 70 years that the left has a chance at power in the Central American nation.

Arevalo is the son of Guatemala’s first democratically elected president, Juan Jose Arevalo (1904-1990), a reformist whose likeminded successor, Jacobo Arbenz, was ousted in 1954 in a coup engineered by the United States.

The corrupt “are not going to win again,” Samuel Perez insists. “They can cancel the party, and we will set up another one. They can try to put us in jail, and more people will come forward. They don’t have the majority they formerly won at the polls, because there is an active population that will never again permit a return to the past.” EFE


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