On February 25, the National Day for the Dignification of the Victims of the Armed Conflict, survivors and families of the victims filed for an injunction against the candidacy of Zury Ríos. In a press conference outside of the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ), the National Platform of the Victims of the Armed Conflict asserted that the Constitution of Guatemala forbids direct relatives of coup leaders to run for President.
Ríos’ father, General Efraín Ríos Montt, came to power in a coup d’état on March 23, 1982. His de facto government served as one of the bloodiest periods of the internal armed conflict, marked by widespread massacres of mostly Indigenous communities. In 2013, Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide against the Ixil people. The verdict, however, was reversed on a technicality just days later by the Constitutional Court (CC). According to representative of the Platform Feliciana Marcario, allowing Ríos to run for the position of head of state “is an action that goes against the dignity of the surviving families of the Internal Armed Conflict.”
Criminalized Prosecutor Denied Medical Care in Prison
On February 23, 2022, Guatemalan authorities arrested former head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) in Quetzaltenango, Virginia Laparra. Accused of “abuse of authority,” Laparra was ordered by judges to remain in detention while awaiting her trial. International groups denounced the explicit criminalization of Laparra, demanding her release. UN Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers, Margaret Satterthwaite, urged authorities to free Laparra, stating, “I’m especially concerned about the irregularities in Ms. Laparra’s case and her continued detention in conditions that may put her health and safety at risk.” Laparra was convicted last December and sentenced to four years in prison.
In the last year, Laparra has been held in conditions of “psychological torture,” according to Amnesty International, which is “incompatible with human dignity.” She urgently needs surgery, but prison authorities are refusing her access to the care she needs any sooner than May. Director for the Americas at Amnesty International, Erika Guevara Rosas, stated, “Virginia Laparra must be released immediately and unconditionally; one more day in prison puts her health and rights at serious risk.”
Protesters Block Highways Across Guatemala, Demand Electoral Transparency
In the early morning of February 16, protesters gathered across Guatemala. Following the ruling from the Supreme Court (CSJ) not to accept the appeal from progressive candidates from the People’s Liberation Movement (MLP), supporters organized a national strike, calling the decision an “electoral coup” and demanding the registration of the candidates.
Two weeks earlier, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) rejected the registration of the MLP ticket of longtime Indigenous activist Thelma Cabrera and former Human Rights Ombudsman Jordán Rodas. Cabrera and Rodas challenged the decision by filing an appeal to the CSJ, which was denied. According to Rodas,”The national legal battle to demand the exercise of our civic and political rights as a binomial continues.” The duo plans to bring the case to the Constitutional Court (CC). Cabrera and Rodas also recently visited Washington, DC, to share their concerns about electoral fraud with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.
Meanwhile, protesters blocked highways and bridges in Guatemala throughout twelve different departments. Carrying signs, a large group of protesters gathered outside the TSE building, demanding transparency in the upcoming elections. Indigenous human rights defender and former prisoner of conscience Bernardo Caal stated, “Preventing the registration of Thelma Cabrera as a presidential candidate is an act of racism.” The strike continued throughout the week.
Security Forces Open Fire on Campesinos in the Petén, Killing One
On February 14, police opened fire on community members in La Revancha, Sierra de Lacandón, Petén. Witnesses report that while a group of campesinos tended to their crops, agents from the Nature Protection Division (DIPRONA) and the National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) arrived, accompanied by members of the military and National Civil Police (PNC). The agents fired at the group, leaving four community members seriously injured. They were rushed to the hospital in El Paraíso for emergency medical attention, where thirty-eight-year-old Sergio López Osorio lost his life after succumbing to his wounds.
In a statement, the communities of Laguna del Tigre and Sierra de Lacandón denounced the attack and the “clear policy of persecution and extermination against this population.” The People’s Liberation Movement (MLP) echoed their sentiments, stating, “These practices are reminiscent of the years of the armed conflict.” The communities called upon the state to investigate the attack and reopen dialogue with communities impacted by the “Protected Areas Law.”