Guatemalan Communities Turn Out for Indigenous-Led Nationwide Shutdown

As thousands of people gathered in Guatemala's western highlands on Thursday morning, fog still covered the highway. Paulina Gonzlez, one of the first people to reach Los Encuentros (a crucial juncture on the Pan-American Highway), was among them. There were dozens of protests across the country, including one at the local Indigenous Maya Kaqchikel mobilization that she attended with a few Indigenous Maya Tzutujil ancestral officials. Gonzlez said that people can't take it any longer. Gonzlez said that people can't take it anymore. This move was widely condemned and some U.S. assistance was suspended. Protests followed. On Thursday, Indigenous leaders called for a paro Nacional (or nationwide shutdown) and communities and social movements protested and blocked roads throughout the country demanding that the president and attorney-general resign. On July 23, Attorney General Mara Consuelo Porras fired Juan Francisco Sandoval (head of the Special Anti-Impunity Prosecutors Bureau or FECI as it is known in Spanish). This was the tipping point. Porras' office made a vague public announcement announcing Sandovals dismissal. It referred to prejudice and disrespect. Sandoval responded to the accusation that Porras obstructed FECIs work to protect high-ranking officials, especially those who were part of the president's circle, from being prosecuted for corruption. Both President Alejandro Giammattei and Porras have denied the allegations. Sandoval stated at his press conference that I am the latest among a number of prosecutors to have suffered for seeking justice and truth. We will be judged by history. The results are in.During his three-year tenure at FECI Sandoval met with presidents, politicians, judges, business leaders and other high-ranking figures. FECI collaborated with the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (or CICIG) to identify, investigate and prosecute complex criminal networks embedded in state institutions. The two entities brought down the sitting president Otto Prez Molina, and his entire administration, for graft in 2015. Their investigations into Jimmy Morales (then-President) who was elected in 2016 and succeeded Prez Molinas interim successor caused a fierce backlash from Guatemala's government. Morales considered CICIG commissioner Ivn Valsquez a danger to national security and barred him from the nation. He also decided not to renew CICIGs mandate. CICIG's cases were taken over by FECI in 2019. The commission was shut down in 2019. Sandoval has been the target of animosity since then from both current and potential subjects in corruption investigations. We are concerned about corruption as Indigenous authorities, stated Lorenzo Castro (Solls Indigenous mayor), who is not in charge of the municipal government, but of the autonomous traditional Indigenous governance system. Kaqchikel authorities in Solol and autonomous Kiche authorities from Totonicapn have a strong convening capacity. On Thursday, the largest protests in Guatemala were along the Pan-American Highway. They were in two regions that are dominated by Indigenous people. Castro said that Juan Francisco Sandoval was now the leader of the Pan-American Highway protest in La Cuchilla. This village is two miles from Los Encuentros, which is a key turning-off on the Pan-American Highway. He and other Solol Indigenous officials moved around the protest sites in their territory throughout the day to check conditions and coordinate with local mayors. They said that Sandoval's removal was the end of any hope. Pedro Vsquez, Indigenous vice mayor, stated that the situation was critical. It would be hard not to be mad. Our last defender was taken away by Toms Saloj. He is an ex-Indigenous mayor of Solol. This was reported by The Intercept in La Cuchilla. As the rain increased, protesters took cover under umbrellas and plastic sheets. It is important to fully understand the current situation. There is nothing. Imagine what could happen if you leave things as they stand. What would Guatemala look like?Protesters demanding the resignation of the president block traffic in Totonicapn (Guatemala) on July 29, 2021. Photo by Luis Vargas/Anadolu Agency via Getty ImagesSandoval's ouster provoked national outrage and international condemnation. The U.S. government has announced that it would suspend cooperation with Guatemala's Public Prosecutors Office for a period while it reviews the situation. This is the most concrete response. At a Tuesday press conference, Jalina Porter, deputy spokesperson for the State Department, stated that Sandoval's removal reflects a pattern in behavior that shows a lack of commitment towards the rule of law as well as independent judicial or prosecutorial processes. We have lost faith in the attorney general's decision and in their intention to cooperate with us in fighting corruption.Edie Cux, a Guatemalan lawyer and president of Accin Ciudadana's anti-corruption group Accin Ciudadana said that she believes the government of Guatemala is concerned about what might happen. She noted that both Porras (and Giammattei) tried to minimize the negative consequences by responding to the suspension in writing. As Vice President Kamala Harris pointed out during her official first foreign trip to Guatemala last October, the Biden administration had promised to prioritize anti-corruption activities in northern Central America as a driver for U.S.-bound immigration.