Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti’s insensitive recent comments about planned changes to the country’s minimum wage were answered by nationwide demonstrations on February 22, organized by Guatemala’s Coordinadora Nacional de Organizaciones Campesinas (National Coordination of Peasant Organizations—CNOC). In response to four accords approved at the end of 2014 to establish a lower monthly minimum wage of 1,500 quetzales ($196.6) in the municipalities of Estanzuela, Masagua, San Augustine and Guastatoya, protesters blocked at least 22 roads in various parts of the country, including border areas and major highways.
According to the government, a differentiated minimum wage would lower labor costs to encourage investment in the four municipalities. The new wages were set to go in effect in January, but the decision was suspended late that month after the Procurador de los Derechos Humanos (Human Rights Ombudsman—PDH) raised an injunction in the Constitutional Court, arguing that the measure violated labor rights of workers in those areas. The UN Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty, Philip Alston, also criticized the decision. “Having an exploited labor force is not a viable way to foster economic and social development,” he affirmed.
Responding to the controversy in a press conference last weekend, Baldetti defended the wage differential in a way that many Guatemalans found offensive. Baldetti claimed that if she lived in Estanzuela and had five children, she would be “blessed by God” if she was offered a job in a factory, “whatever the laws say.” “It’s better to have 1,200 quetzales [$157] in your pocket [than to have] nothing and have to eat […] once a day, tortilla with salt,” she said.
In a symbolic display of solidarity, roughly 12,000 Guatemalan citizens formed a human chain on Saturday around Volcán de Agua, one of Guatemala’s 37 volcanoes, to protest the high level of domestic violence throughout the country. This volcano, referred to as Hunapú by the Indigenous Mayan population, is extinct and its peak stands at 3,765 meters (12,352 feet) high.
Using the slogan “Rompe el Ciclo” (Break the Cycle), protestors spanned all ages and genders. The demonstration was well attended by foreign and domestic politicians, including Guatemala’s new president and vice president, Otto Pérez Molina and Roxana Baldetti. President Pérez Molina said, “We want violence to end in this country, we don't want Guatemala to be one of the most violent countries in the world.” Pérez Molina campaigned on a platform of drastically reducing violent crime.
The protest called to attention Guatemala’s rising rate of domestic violence. Government statistics indicate that 646 women were murdered in 2011—almost half of them inside their own homes. Guatemalan daily Prensa Libre notes that domestic violence is the crime most reported to the Ministerio Público (Public Ministry). The ministry is led by Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz and, despite showing signs of reform, Guatemala still holds one of the highest rates of impunity; less than 4 percent of crimes result in successful conviction of perpetrators.
Nonetheless, this weekend’s protest shows promising signs for the future, especially with the youth in attendance. British Ambassador to Guatemala Julie Chappell, who helped organize the human chain, commented, “We are trying to bring about a generational change of attitudes.”
Este 14 de enero, en Guatemala van a tomar posesión las nuevas autoridades quienes llevarán el rumbo del país. La población, como cada cuatro años, mantiene la esperanza de que las autoridades electas puedan responder a las principales demandas, especialmente de todos los sectores tradicionalmente marginados como el caso de los pueblos Indígenas y las mujeres.
Es importante destacar que en los últimos años ha existido una mayor participación de los sectores Indígenas en la elección de autoridades locales como el caso de las alcaldías municipales. Sin embargo en el caso de los principales puestos como la presidencia o las diputaciones, aun es muy marcada la discriminación y las pocas oportunidades que los partidos políticos brindan a los sectores Indígenas.
Por ejemplo en el departamento de Quiché, al noroeste del país y uno de los que tiene mayor caudal de votantes, elige un total de ocho diputados para el Congreso de la República. De las ocho diputaciones únicamente tres son Indígenas aunque no necesariamente identificados con las causas de este sector y solamente figura una mujer por lo que es otra clara muestra de la inequidad existente en el país.
En relación a la conformación del nuevo gabinete de gobierno, de los 14 ministros solamente figura un Indígena que es el Ministro de Cultura y Deportes que estará a cargo de Carlos Batzín y solamente figuran tres mujeres para dirigir los ministerios de: educación; medio ambiente y recursos naturales; y el nuevo ministerio de desarrollo social.
Guatemala and Nicaragua went to the polls yesterday to (re)elect their presidents; Otto Pérez Molina was declared the victor in Guatemala, while Nicaragua is still tabulating its votes. Pérez Molina, of the Partido Patriota (Patriot Party–PP) defeated Manuel Baldizón of the Libertad Democrática Renovada (Renewed Democratic Freedom–LIDER) party in Guatemala’s runoff election. Neither candidate had secured a majority vote in the September 11 primary.
Guatemala’s election authority, the Tribuno Supremo Electoral, notes that the PP got 53.8 percent of the vote and LIDER 46.2 percent. Pérez Molina, a former army general, has pledged to tackle Guatemala’s widespread crime and insecurity with a mano dura (firm hand), partly through hiring and training roughly 10,000 additional police officers and 2500 more soldiers.
This year’s election was historic for Guatemala because a woman—Roxana Baldetti—will assume the vice-presidency for the first time. Baldetti, a sitting congresswoman, has been a driving force in the PP calling for transparency in Guatemalan politics. She and Pérez Molina have campaigned on the promise to continue the inclusive, pro-poor programs of Sandra Torres, Guatemala’s first lady, which are highly popular.
In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega and his Frente Sandinista de Liberación Nacional (Sandinista Front of National Liberation—FSLN) are leading in the vote count. Nicaraguan daily La Prensa is reporting that, with 38.8 percent of ballots counted, the FSLN is winning with 63.95 percent, compared to 29.09 percent for its nearest rival, Fabio Gadea of the Partido Liberal Independiente (Liberal Independent Party–PLI). Ortega, who served as president from 1985-1990 and again from 2007 through the present, is widely expected to prevail and assume a third term. Yesterday Ortega’s wife and spokeswoman, Rosario Murillo, proclaimed, “This is the victory of Christianity, socialism and solidarity.”