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Victory for Democracy in Guatemala! / Tortuguita ¡Presente! — Posters of the Week

Poster of the Week (International) - Victory for Democracy in Guatemala!



¡Vivos Los Queremos! / We Want Them Alive!

Tanner

Equipo de Apoyo Sindical (EAPS)

Campaña Internacional por el aparecimiento de los sindicalistas

guatemaltecos detenidos - desaparecidos /

International campaign for the appearance of the lengthy-disappeared

Guatemalan unionists

Offset, 1980s

Guatemala

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On January 15, a few minutes after midnight, Bernardo Arévalo and Karin Herrera, members of the pro-democracy, anti-corruption political party Movimiento Semilla, were sworn into office as President and Vice-President of Guatemala. Their election in August 2023 shocked the “pacto de coruptos,“ sectors of the country’s corrupt oligarchy whose control over the country had grown over the last 20 years. Taking a page from the MAGA Republicans who attempted to prevent Joe Biden from becoming President, corrupt Guatemalan lawmakers challenged the legality of the Semilla party, threatened party activists, and arrested or drove into exile judges, prosecutors and attorneys who refused to go along with their accusations of a fraudulent election.


In a nail-biter 10 hour process, live-streamed on YouTube around the world on January 14, 2024, inauguration day, in clear view of official delegations that had arrive in Guatemala from around the world, the “pacto de corruptos” made last minute maneuvers to prevent the president and vice-president from taking office. 


Finally, 92 out of 160 members of Guatemala’s Congress approved the swearing in of the President and Vice-President from Movimiento Semilla, a new and small social democratic, environmentalist, and progressive political party. Their pro-democracy and anti-corruption platform was defended courageously by thousands of people, including Indigenous people from small towns in mountainous areas of rural Guatemala who occupied the area around the government buildings for 108 days.


The calls for a new “democratic spring” for Guatemala are even more powerful because the new President Bernardo Arrevalo’s father—Juan Jose Arrevalo—was one of two civilian presidents during Guatemala’s first “democratic spring” between 1944-54, before it was destroyed by a CIA coup.  It was as though Guatemala’s earlier truly democratic period had been reincarnated. Young Guatemalans who had heard their grandparents or great-grandparents talk longingly of another kind of country, one that encouraged their participation and nourished hope for the future embraced their own “tio Bernie” (Bernardo Arrevalo)). They posted rap songs, flashmobs, personal testimonies in indigenous languages and Spanish, and graffiti and murals calling on their contemporaries to mobilize.


The link to a revered president of Guatemala’s past was a “stranger than fiction” accident of history since the Semilla party was never expected to get more than 3% of the vote in the first round of voting where the members of Congress were elected and the top two candidates for president were selected for the second round.  


What was different from the past, and unprecedented in Guatemala’s history since its colonization by Spain, was the powerful and respected role of Indigenous leaders who took up the banner of support, not for a particular political party, but for democracy and an end to corruption and for a more inclusive muti-cultural and pluralistic concept of “nationhood” than Guatemala had ever known.


In the midst of attacks on democracy around the globe, and debates over pluralism within democracies, people around the world who support democracy and justice, including those who have been forced to migrate because of the policies of the “corruptos” are celebrating Guatemala’s victory, the power of the people to mobilize for non-violent change and the new recognition of ancestral leaders in a country whose population is more than half Indigenous.


To fully appreciate the extent of this victory it is necessary to understand some of Guatemala’s 20th century history. From 1931-1944, Guatemala was ruled by Jorge Ubico Castañeda, a U.S.-backed traditional-style military dictator who compared himself to Adolf Hitler and who mercilessly persecuted anyone who criticized or challenged him.


Ubico was overthrown by a popular revolt in 1944. The following year, Juan José Arévalo became Guatemala’s first democratically elected president. Jacobo Arbenz was democratically elected in 1951 but overthrown by a CIA-engineered coup in 1954. Arbenz attempted a land reform, redistributing uncultivated land owned by the United Fruit Company. President Eisenhower’s CIA head, Allen Dulles and his brother John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State, engineered the coup. Decades of brutal military dictatorships followed, supplied by US military aid and training.

 

From the 1960s-1990s, a civil war raged, during which the Guatemalan government committed genocide against Indigenous Guatemalans—over 440 Ixil Mayan villages were destroyed and over 200,000 were killed. One of the most brutal presidents was General Rios Montt, graduate of the US School of the Americas. During his 14-month dictatorship (1982-84), 80,000 civilians were murdered or disappeared. President Ronald Reagan called Montt “a man of great personal integrity and commitment” and “totally dedicated to democracy.”

 

Rios Montt was removed from power in a military coup in 1983 and civilian governments returned to Guatemala in 1996 after the Peace Accords were signed between the government and the revolutionary movement leaders. Gains in human rights, holding public officials accountable for corruption and abuses, and strengthening the rule of law were made, little by little. But after President Otto Perez Molina was forced to resign and sent to prison for corruption in 2015, and Gen. Rios Montt was tried for genocide in proceedings transmitted around the world in 2018, sectors of the oligarchy increasingly intertwined with organized crime and the drug and smuggling cartels struck back. They dismantled the Commission Against Impunity, again making public offices cesspools of corruption with little recourse for ending a culture of impunity. The Covid shutdown only made things worse and little hope for change seemed possible when the 2023 election season began.

 

But just as the ground often looks barren during winter months while beneath the ground seedlings are beginning to wiggle their way to the topsoil, a series of mistakes on the part of the “corruptos” and the visionary anti-corruption and pro-democracy dreams of the Seed Party combined to yield an extraordinary electoral victory and a revived more-diverse-than-ever-popular movement that the majority of Guatemalans, in the country and in the diaspora, are celebrating and promoting.

 

We are very grateful to Norma Chinchilla for writing most of this essay.


 

Poster of the Week (Domestic) - Tortuguita ¡Presente!



Stop Cop City

Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ)

Digital Print, 2021

Atlanta, GA


January 18, 2024 marked one year since the murder of Indigenous Venezuelan activist Manuel “Tortuguita” Paez Terán. They were brutally killed by Georgia State troopers while defending the Weelaunee Forest in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

In 2020, when public outrage over police beatings and murders of unarmed people of color was exceptionally high following the murder of George Floyd, a $90 million project to build a military grade training compound for the Atlanta Police Department was made public. Officially named the Atlanta Public Safety Training Center, activists and the media called it “Cop City.” In 2021, activists, called Forest Defenders, including Tortuguita, began to occupy Weelaunee Forest to prevent it from being razed. In 2023, Tortuguita was shot 14 times by Georgie State troopers during an illegal raid of an encampment which was a part of a larger Stop Cop City and Defend Atlanta Forest movement. Georgia State troopers claimed they fired in self-defense and that Tortuguita fired first. Later autopsy report and an investigation revealed that Tortuguita was unarmed and the state trooper was shot by friendly fire.


The organization SURJ created different graphics, banners, and signs targeting corporations who are helping fund Cop City. This poster appropriates the Coca-Cola font to protest the project.

 

Tortuguita’s murder ignited resistance across the nation, in memory, honor, and outrage surrounding the injustice of their murder. For Tortuguita we say

 

¡Presente!


 

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