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Guatemala: News & Updates

Guatemala had the longest and bloodiest civil war in Central American history: 36 years (1960-96). The US-backed military was responsible for a genocide (“scorched earth policy”) that wiped out 200,000 mostly Maya indigenous civilians.  War criminals are still being tried in the courts.

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In this monthly newsletter, we include the fiscal year-end numbers from Customs and Border Patrol. CBP reports 2,475,669 “encounters” of migrants at the US-Mexico border from OCT 2022-SEP 2023. That’s up about 100,000 from last fiscal year. 

Let’s be clear. There is no “border crisis.” But there is a humanitarian crisis at the border.

The numbers don’t justify any increased funding for CBP. Federal agents are not having to chase down tens of thousands of migrants along the river bank or into the desert along the 2,000 mile border. A large portion of the “encountered” migrants (roughly 30,000 per month) have actually turned themselves in voluntarily at ports-of-entry to request political asylum. Presenting themselves at ports of entry (i.e., the “legal” way to cross) are these nationalities in this order: Haiti, Venezuela, Mexico, Cuba, Honduras, Guatemala, Colombia, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Peru.

But the waiting time to schedule an appointment at the border crossing (via the CBP One app) and then waiting for the actual appointment—this is causing tens of thousands of migrants to seek humanitarian assistance on the Mexico side of the border as they sit it out and wait.

As burdensome as the asylum process is, a group of US senators is trying to make it worse. They are threatening to stall any supplemental budget request that Biden is submitting for the war in Ukraine, Israel/Gaza, and the US-Mexico border. They say that won’t approve any Biden request unless it contains new border restrictions, including: more detention, family and child detention, restrictions on humanitarian parole, and banning the right to asylum for migrants who do not present themselves at ports-of-entry (note: this is clearly an illegal provision that violates both domestic and international asylum law.). 

See the Take Action items listed at the bottom of this newsletter. Our advocacy is needed to maintain some modicum of humanity in the nation’s immigration system and to address root causes of migration. 



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Welcome to the vibrant celebration of human rights at the IRTF's 43rd Annual Commemoration Program, Fiesta De Derechos Humanos! As we gather to honor and reflect on the enduring pursuit of justice, this program book serves as a testament to the diverse voices advocating for human rights around the globe. Join us in commemorating the progress made and acknowledging the challenges that lie ahead in our collective journey towards a more just and equitable world. Through engaging narratives, powerful testimonials, and inspiring perspectives, Fiesta De Derechos Humanos encapsulates the essence of our shared commitment to fostering a world where human rights flourish for all.

To view the entire program book visit:

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In 2022, Guatemala faced turmoil at the University of San Carlos following the contested election of Walter Mazariegos as the new rector. Bernardo Arevalo, initially a little-known figure, gained international attention after becoming Guatemala's president-elect. However, prosecutors have sought to strip him and his running mate, Karin Herrera, of political immunity for supporting student protests. The move is viewed by critics as an attempt to undermine Arevalo's presidency, adding to previous legal actions against him. The investigation into the university occupation has raised concerns about free speech suppression, with Arevalo's vocal support for the protests becoming a focal point. The attempt to lift his immunity is seen as a potential threat to Guatemala's democratic stability, drawing international criticism, particularly from the United States. The outcome could impact regional stability and collaboration on issues like transnational crime.

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International organizations strongly condemn the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor's Office for criminalizing political opposition, academics, journalists, and human rights defenders in the "Takeover of the USAC: political booty" case. This abuse of power aims to prevent the inauguration of President-elect Bernardo Arévalo and others on January 14, 2024. Raids and arrests targeting 27 individuals, including human rights advocates and academics, occurred in connection with their peaceful resistance against election anomalies at the University of San Carlos de Guatemala in 2022. The Public Prosecutor's Office plans to pursue pre-trial proceedings against elected officials, deepening a strategy of unjust criminalization. International bodies, including the OAS and IACHR, express grave concern and call on Guatemala to respect election results and cease actions threatening constitutional order and judicial independence. They emphasize the need for international oversight to prevent further abuses and signal that authoritarian manipulation of laws will not be tolerated on the global stage.

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Guatemala's president-elect, Bernardo Arévalo, won the presidency with a surprising margin in a runoff election marred by irregularities and disqualifications. Despite initially being underestimated, Arévalo's unexpected success triggered a campaign by authorities, including the suspension of his party and investigations, leading to protests. Arévalo describes these actions as a "coup in slow motion," emphasizing the use of legal means to undermine elected officials. He calls for global attention to the challenges democracy faces worldwide and expresses confidence in assuming office as scheduled on Jan. 14, citing legal support and electoral tribunal decisions.

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Guatemala's president-elect, Bernardo Arévalo, accuses political and judicial forces of attempting to prevent his January inauguration through corrupt means, warning that their success would lead to economic disaster, increased migration to the US, and the establishment of an authoritarian regime. Arévalo, elected in August, emphasizes the desperation for change in Guatemala and accuses Attorney General Consuelo Porras and others of undermining democracy. He anticipates sanctions if prevented from taking office, making it difficult to attract investment. Arévalo's economic plans include doubling public investment, improving the rule of law, and reducing debt relative to GDP by 2028.

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The text provides an update on the ongoing Indefinite National Strike in Guatemala, initiated on October 2nd by Indigenous Ancestral Authorities and supported by various sectors of the population. The main demand is the resignation of officials involved in the "Pact of Corrupt." The Indigenous authorities have shifted their strategy, ending highway blockades but maintaining a sit-in outside the Public Prosecutor's Office in Guatemala City. The US Assistant Secretary of State met with President-Elect Bernardo Arévalo, not the current president, and discussed potential sanctions to ensure democratic order. Political parties in Congress proposed removing Attorney General Consuelo Porras from her post. Tragically, an Indigenous leader involved in the strike was murdered, demanding a thorough investigation. Despite the end of the electoral process, the strike continues, and new actions are expected as the people persist in their demands for justice and accountability. Solidarity with Guatemala is encouraged.


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The Maryknoll Office for Global Concerns, along with the Latin American Working Group and the Guatemalan Human Rights Commission, has expressed solidarity with the people of Guatemala, particularly Indigenous communities, who are fighting for democracy, human rights, and accountability. They condemn the Guatemalan government's attempts to overturn the August 20, 2023 elections and prevent President-Elect Bernardo Arévalo from taking office. The government's tactics include intimidation, threats, and legal actions against election workers and the winning party, Movimiento Semilla. The international community recognizes Arévalo's landslide victory. The protesters, including Indigenous authorities, human rights activists, women's groups, and religious leaders, demand the resignation of corrupt officials and the protection of their constitutional right to peaceful protest. The article calls on the United States to impose sanctions on the guilty officials and urges the Guatemalan government to respect the election results and ensure a peaceful transition of power. The solidarity statement expresses support for the courageous people of Guatemala in their struggle for democracy and the rule of law.

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The US Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Brian Nichols, visited Guatemala to support a peaceful presidential transition but was denied a meeting by President Giammattei. Meanwhile, members of the US House Democracy Partnership urgently requested Secretary of State Antony Blinken to ensure a peaceful transition of power in Guatemala. Additionally, US House representatives, led by Congresswoman Norma Torres, called for strong sanctions, including financial ones, to protect democracy in Guatemala amid concerns of attacks on election workers. The State Department also added former and current Guatemalan officials, including Gendri Rocael Reyes Mazariegos and Alberto Pimentel Mata, to the corrupt actors list due to their involvement in significant corruption, making them ineligible for entry into the United States.

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When we hear about the Border Patrol apprehending people along the southern border, we tend to imagine people from Mexico or Central America. But the national origins of migrants are much more varied, and the Border Patrol isn’t exactly “apprehending” as many people because most are turning themselves in at ports-of-entry.

In this month’s newsletter, we report that 100% of Haitians encountered by the Border Patrol affirmatively presented themselves at ports-of-entry, as did 88% of Cubans and 96% of Russians. Although Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is reporting increases in the number of migrants it “encounters,” (an 82% increase from June to July; a 36% increase from July to  August), the numbers of migrants encountered by CBP are still well below the numbers from 2022.

Mexican nationals still top the numbers of encounters by CBP. But current trends indicate that Venezuelans might soon push them out of that number one spot.

To slow the migration of Venezuelans to the US, the Biden administration is taking some new steps. One: Biden signed an agreement with President Maduro to lift some of the economic sanctions on Venezuela and, in reciprocity, Maduro agreed to start accepting deportation flights of Venezuelans. Two: Biden announced in September that it will allow Venezuelans who entered the U.S. on or before July 31 to receive temporary protected status, allowing them to apply for a work visa and deferred deportation for 18 months. Three: Biden plans to spend $10 million in foreign aid to help Panama deport more migrants who do not qualify for asylum protections. Four: In June, the US opened two Safe Mobility Offices in Colombia (as it has in Costa Rica and Guatemala) to consider nationals from Cuba, Haiti, and Venezuela for humanitarian protection or other legal pathways. Five: The US had made deals with Panama and Mexico to begin deporting citizens of Venezuela from their countries.

Since Venezuelans can no longer get visas to fly to places like Mexico, many are been voyaging through the deadly jungles of the Darién Gap that lies between Colombia and Panama. According to the government of Panamá, 334,000 migrants have made the trek since January; 60% have been Venezuelan. The $10 million Biden is offering to Panama (see above) is intended to push US border enforcement south from the US-Mexico border to the Panama-Colombia border.

Migration justice advocates continue to call for addressing structural issues in Latin America that are pushing emigration. Many of those issues are caused by, or exacerbated by, US policies (e.g., militarization of security forces, economic sanctions, mineral extraction, support for non-democratic regimes). Unless people see hope of real change and can envision raising their families in safe environments at home, migration will continue. But the US continues to respond with militarized borders, criminalization of migration, mass incarceration, and deportation.


DONATE: Please consider supporting IRTF’s Migrant Justice work. Click HERE to donate. Thank you.


Welcome to IRTF’s October 2023 newsletter on Migrant Justice and the current situation at the US-Mexico border! After you’ve looked through the articles, we hope you can take a few minutes to see the TAKE ACTION items at the bottom.