Guatemala drops five points in international assessment on political rights and civil freedom

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By LatAm Reports Editorial Team

Freedom in the World highlights that Guatemalan politics is unstable and corruption is a serious problem.

Guatemala dropped five points in terms of political rights and civil liberties, according to the evaluation of that organization, which gave it 46 points out of 100. In political freedoms the country had a 17-point rating on 40 and civil liberties, 29 out of 60. Both criteria are distributed in different respects and the total dot in 2022 was 51/100.

Freedom in the World is an annual global report on political rights and civil liberties, composed of numerical ratings and descriptive texts for each country and a select group of territories.

The 2024 edition covers developments in 195 countries and 15 territories from 1 January to 31 December 2023.

The entity evaluates the rights and freedoms of the real world enjoyed by individuals, rather than governments or the performance of government as such. Political rights and civil liberties can be affected by both State and non-State actors, including insurgents and other armed groups.

Freedom House does not believe that legal guarantees of rights are sufficient to comply with these rights on the ground. While both laws and actual practices are taken into account in rating decisions, greater emphasis is placed on implementation.

Important considerations

As far as the evaluation is questioned whether the president was elected through free and fair elections, he points out that the Guatemalan electoral period was tarnished by significant irregularities. During the pre-election period, several presidential candidates were prohibited from participating in elections on arbitrary grounds, the report cites.

He adds that prior to the second round of elections, there were events that uncover repeated attacks on the rule of law by the current authorities, who were trying to disrupt the electoral process.

On whether the deputies were elected through free and fair elections, the organization stresses that the current legislators have stated that the suspension of the Seed Movement disqualifies the elected legislators of that party to assume leadership roles in the new Congress.

As to whether the laws and electoral framework are fair and the relevant electoral management bodies are implemented impartially, it is mentioned that during the years 2022 and 2023 there were controversial decisions of the Guatemalan courts that favored the ruling party and other conservative parties, while in 2023, approximately 10 per cent of the candidates were arbitrarily encouraged to participate in elections on doubt, which reduced genuine competition.

On whether the people have the right to organize in different political parties, he indicates that the poor application of party financial regulations has allowed some candidates and parties to access vast resources.

As for whether there is a realistic opportunity for the opposition to increase its support or win power through the elections, it is indicated that Guatemalan politics is unstable and power often shashady between the parties, which can deter a traditional opposition from joining. The new parties have consistently won significant quotas of power in recent years, they say.

Freedom in the World stresses that verbal – verbal harm and physical violence against voters are common during elections in Guatemala – and the weak and arbitrary application of campaign finance regulations allows for unbalanced resource advantages, as well as the financing of candidates with special interests and organized criminal groups.

Is direct vote buying and using public funds to influence the outcome of the elections are common. Observers reported that armed groups and criminal organizations have attempted to influence the results of local elections, he stresses.

With regard to the fact that the various segments of the population, including ethnic, racial, religious groups, have full political rights and electoral opportunities, it is indicated that they are fighting to fully exercise their political rights, because according to the organization, there are no affirmative measures to promote the election of representatives of indigenous peoples and are underrepresented despite representing approximately half of the population.

Of the 30 political parties that participated in the 2023 elections, only one identified as indigenous. Of a total of 160 legislative seats, only 12 will be held by indigenous members, they said.

Influences

As to whether the president and deputies determine the government’s policies, they are said to do so, but they are often subject to the influence of external interests and former military officers continue to exercise significant power.

Business groups continue to exert significant influence on all branches of government and are part of the governing bodies of various public institutions. Organized crime groups have penetrated state institutions, they stress.

They also report that corruption is often linked to organized crime, and remains a serious problem.

The authorities continue to obstruct the fight against corruption, paralyzing processes and dismantling cases presented by anti-corruption agencies such as the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

Judges, prosecutors, journalists and civil society actors committed to the fight against corruption have been increasingly targeted by physical attacks, threats, malicious lawsuits and smear campaigns, they highlight.

He also stresses that the government does not interfere with academic freedom, but academics have received death threats for questioning past human rights abuses or continuing injustices. He also claims that many Guatemalans take precautions when talking about social and political issues outside their homes due to the high level of insecurity in the country.

Organizational rights

About if there’s freedom of assembly? They indicated that it is a right that is not always protected and the police frequently threaten and sometimes use violence against protesters. Protests related to environmental or indigenous rights have encountered stiff resistance from the police and armed groups. The judiciary is hampered by corruption, inefficiency and intimidation of judges, prosecutors, he says.

Attorney General Consuelo Porras has repeatedly blocked high-profile corruption investigations and has increasingly used the justice system as a weapon against prosecutors, lawyers and judges involved in the fight against corruption,” they said.

Experts are of the opinion

For Francisco Quezada, a political analyst at the Center for National Economic Research (One Hundred), this qualification reflects a setback for Guatemala in democracy. However, it believes that this is happening in various countries.

Are they putting us in a lag of liberal democracy. Nicaragua, El Salvador and Honduras are more committed at the Central American level. Costa Rica is the one that is the one that is ahead of us, he said.

Quezada says that the loss of democracy is because, as in the United States, many Guatemalans bet on a dictatorial regime, because they do not see democracy coming to save from problems and feel that freedom does not respond to their basic needs; that is why we see Bukele phenomena, people prefer to lose freedoms in order to feel better. The citizen believes that a dictator is the solution, which is a global phenomenon and is alarming.

Luis Miguel Reyes, of the Freedom and Development Foundation, said that in recent years, Guatemala has had a setback in human rights and freedoms. And after what happened last year when institutionality was put at risk after the elections, it is logical that the country is affected by international qualifications.

However, as the transition was achieved, he believed that the picture was changing positively again. Let us achieve a transition of power rescue us from that situation and the organization. It is a country that gives some hope that there is a possibility of an institutional bailout, he said.

Reyes emphasizes that any institutional deterioration has an effect in the country and it may be that with these qualifications, it becomes a country that is not attractive to investment. “To the extent that you don’t worry about rescuing the justice system that’s key to institutionality, there’s very little we can do to bring in foreign investment,” he sentenced.

This article has been translated from the original which first appeared in Prensa Libre