#JusticiaYa: We’re still here

By Gabriel Wer – #JusticiaYa – November 2015

Since the first popular protest on April 25th, it has been said that Guatemala woke up. There is talk of a Guatemalan and Central American Spring. But the reality is that here no one was asleep. You cannot sleep in a country where the majority of residents fight to survive, while the political class and parallel power structures seek power at all costs to enrich themselves if only for four or more years. A drowsy silence overran classrooms, shops, businesses, streets, and public squares. Perhaps it was part of the legacy of a 36-year internal armed conflict and the repression that defined it.

With these peaceful, nationwide movements something was born that has served to nourish a debilitated social fabric and institutional capacity. These have been greatly bolstered by a social cohesion that many of us longed for, though we thought it unlikely. After many years of silence, especially in urban areas, towards our government and between ourselves, we dared to verbalize our anger and demand justice. And we did it peacefully. These actions brought positive change. The president and the vice-president fell, as well as a corrupt electoral campaign model. Political, social, and student collectives emerged. New spaces were created for dialogue between groups and provinces with different cultures, and even between countries. This story has resonated around the world and from here there is no going back.

Though in just a few months we’ve had important victories, we cannot become smug or impatient. As Attorney General Aldana and Commissioner Velásquez have repeated: The time of justice is different from ours; it is usually slower. We know that the achievements of these five months can’t be attributed solely to these movements, but we should not underestimate the essential role that citizens are playing as emerging and unexpected actors in Guatemala’s political chessboard. We can assert that beyond corrupt officials and criminal groups, the biggest defeats have been silence and resignation. We are many, the citizens who continue to seek, peacefully and firmly, the fundamental changes that will limit impunity and access to power for those with corrupt and illegal ambitions. The first peaceful protests were carried out with the single goal of fighting corruption in the executive branch. Their strength lay in anger focused on specific names and faces. They were the product of an almost symbiotic relationship between the investigations of the Public Ministry and CICIG (the Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, a UN body formed in 2007 by an agreement between the UN and the Guatemalan government), and the calls to take to the streets from citizen groups and collectives. However, since the general elections in September, we have entered an era in which we need to be more ambitious and effect structural change. We are in a crucial moment that requires even greater coordination and civic organization, an approach that is broader and deeper, that has well defined external and internal courses of action.

The external work aims to guarantee state transparency and the absence of impunity across the political spectrum, from political parties to public administration. We know the arrests of groups like La Línea will continue and that emblematic cases will continue to come to light. We must continue to investigate the policies and actions of successive administrations and those who assume power in January. Both the corrupted and the corrupters must be revealed and brought to justice. As the list of legal actions continues to grow, vigilant and participatory citizen organizations must accompany the process of purification and regeneration. Likewise, we must intensify the reconciliation taking place between civil sectors that have historically failed to cooperate so that we can strengthen the fight for key and unifying issues like the national budget, judicial and legislative purges, and reform of important laws that are magnets for corruption.  They are long and complicated battles, but they are no less important, nor are they impossible.

Internally, we must work to systemize mechanisms of civic organization, of information sharing, and of investigation, as well as design and agree on a concrete path to justice, peace, and inclusion for our country. Meanwhile, this social movement must embark on the important task of understanding itself from the inside without delaying action. Criticism is healthy and has its purpose, but should not paralyze us, especially in these early stages of the movement. Healthy self-criticism is necessary, however, and must be continuous. To demand results without committing to their design is an irresponsible political and social proposal.

The risks are the same and though we should be prudent, the situation does not allow us to give in to resignation or fear. In some groups and sectors, a certain ideological panic continues to dominate, creating irrational fears that misinform and disperse efforts, in place of promoting the dialogue and exchange of ideas that build civic and political capital. Various leaders and experienced politicians continue to focus on our differences, further polarizing our fragile social fabric. The structures and mechanisms of corruption continue to function, and the possibility still exists of repression by local and central authorities. In order to mitigate these and many other risks, we in #JusticiaYa have made ourselves a platform for information sharing, dialogue, and civic organization.

It will be very difficult to make the changes we dream of without strengthening and reorganizing civic structures to be more representative. The networks built in the streets and squares should be employed so that these movements can become the hotbed of a new political class, ready to participate democratically in the renewal of the system. The road is long, but is being built through dialogue, information and training. Our commitment is to respect, empathy, unity and love. History shows where fear, silence, hate and revenge have led us. May the spirit of peace and unity prevail in this long fight for a different, better country. We’re still here and we will not return to silence.