Thousands of Guatemalans across the country are taking part in a student-led national strike on Thursday to demand the resignation of President Jimmy Morales and Vice President Jafeth Cabrera, as the president dismissed a petition by the Constitutional Court (CC) to let the U.N.-backed anti-graft commissioner Ivan Velasquez back into the country.
Morales decision to dismantle the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) sparked nationwide protests, as the move was seen as an attempt to protect his own crimes from investigation.
The students of the University of San Carlos (USAC) called for a day of national strike on Sept. 20. The date marks the first year since the massive demonstrations against reforms on the criminal code proposed by Jimmy Morales, which took the responsibility for illegal financing crimes away from high level political organizations and moved them to accountability departments.
The call to protest was answered by unions, Campesino, Indigenous and other student organizations, such as the Campesino Unity Committee (CUC) and the Campesino Committee of the Highlands (CCDA), in different departments of the country.
"Stop corruption, stop impunity! that's the cry of the organized communities of the Ixcan municipality [Quiche] taking part in the National Strike this #20S"
Demonstrators gathered at the University of San Carlos and marched to the National Square, joined by many more on the way who brought food and water to their allies.
Lenina Garcia, the secretary general of the University Students Association (AEU), said that the CICIG represents a hope for the country, investigating the corruption networks of politicians.
“In a country where the political class has no legitimacy, where governors don’t defend the interests of the people … the work of Ivan Velasquez and the CICIG has been fundamental because they have shown us that justice is possible,” said Garcia.
Daniel Pascual, from the CUC, said their organization marched not only in the capital city, but in many provinces across the country.
In Quetzaltenango-Xelajuj, students also led a massive protest rejecting the governor Cesar Queme, an ally of Morales.
University students count about 20,000 demonstrators in Quetzaltenango, walking to the central square."
In Santa Cruz del Quiche, about 150 km northwest of the capital, the Catholic Church called to join the strike during Sunday masses, a call that was answered by local social organizations. The Multisector Departmental Assembly of K’iche’ declared all its branches would march to demand the resignation of Morales, and hoped there wouldn’t be repression from security forces.
“We add up to thousands of voices united against the actions of the president and other ministers to protect themselves, their relatives and friends involved in acts of corruption,” said Selvin Gonzalez, from the assembly.
Other organizations, such as the indigenous assemblies and leaders of the Community Councils for Development announced they would block access roads to Quiche in support of the strike. Miguel de Leon, mayor of the indigenous city hall of the Ixil region, said the town would be joining the blockade to “stop the militarism activated by Jimmy Morales, which has polarized even more society in Guatemala.”
Also, business owners left their stores closed in support of the strike.
Gonzalez remembered the last protests of Sept. 20 in Quiche, where thousands marched to demand Morales' resignation.
“It’s sad that 12 months after we’re still demanding the same, but now fearing a coup,” he said.
The Industrial Chamber of Guatemala (CIG) didn’t approve the strike, saying the country is not “in condition for a labor strike that affects the industry, the economy and the development of the country.”
“Guatemala needs development and progress, not strikes,” they declared in a statement.
In spite of the opposition of the private sector, protests were also registered in Chiquimula, Retalhuleu, Totonicapan, San Marcos and Alta Verapaz.