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Guatemala: Political transition and protests

Since his inauguration in January, former comedian and now President Jimmy Morales has faced an intense Congressional transition and renewal of mass protests in Guatemala. The following article was written by Sustainable Pathways to Peace and Security intern Nicholas Alexandrou and published in the March-April 2016 issue of NewsNotes.

Since Jimmy Morales’ victory in the presidential election in September, members of the Guatemalan Congress have been shifting allegiances, mostly to the nationalistic and conservative National Convergence Front (FCN) – the party of President Morales. Some have labeled them “transfuga,” or turncoats, because they defect from one party to another. 

A significant number of members of former President Oscar Perez Molina’s Patriotic Party (PP) and the right-wing Renewed Democratic Liberty Party (LIDER), which is the majority party in Congress, have joined the FCN. The FCN has experienced a 136 percent increase in delegates, moving it from the fifth to the second largest party in Guatemala. Ironically, the FCN now includes a significant group of lawmakers who had been affiliated with the previous administration.  

President Morales has broken a campaign promise not to allow defecting lawmakers into his party. Even worse, the acceptance of defectors may breakdown  communication between leadership of the FCN and the President. In a press conference, the head of the FCN in Congress, Javier Hernandez, defended his acceptance of the defectors, saying that he didn’t make promises that he would not accept “turncoats,” “unlike what the President promised.”

In addition to the chaotic transition in Congress, thousands of workers and campesinos took to the streets of Guatemala City in February. Protesters demanded both political and economic reforms, paralyzing traffic in the process. Demonstrators publicly presented a manifesto to Congress and President Morales that included a demand for “respecting the constitutional rights of workers,” as well as agricultural reforms, cancelation of projects that exploit national resources, and nationalization of the electrical grid, among other things. They also called for a “dignified budget” for the Ministry of Health to purchase medicine and improve health networks. 

President Morales’ lack of political experience and support from former military hard-liners makes his administration’s response to these tensions uncertain.