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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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On behalf of IRTF’s Rapid Response Network (RRN) members, we wrote six letters this month to heads of state and other high-level officials in Colombia and Guatemala, urging their swift action in response to human rights abuses occurring in their countries.  We join with civil society groups in Latin America to: (1) protect people living under threat, (2) demand investigations into human rights crimes, (3) bring human rights criminals to justice.

Volunteers with the Rapid Response Network (RRN)—together with IRTF staff—write letters in response to six urgent human rights cases each month. We send copies of these letters to US ambassadors, embassy human rights officers, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, regional representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and desk officers at the US State Department. To read the letters, see , or ask us to mail you hard copies.

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Despite the federal government’s bragging that its new asylum-restriction policies at the border are working (backed by stats of fewer “encounters” of undocumented persons), measures to further block people from crossing and soliciting asylum are on the rise. Biden is requesting more money for ICE and CBP, which means more surveillance, militarization, and detention. In the Rio Grande, Texas Governor Abbott is stringing a series of floating buoys wrapped in concertina wire and anchored to the riverbed below with webbing to prevent people from swimming underneath.  Aside from being unusually cruel and dangerous to migrants and wildlife, the measure is most certainly in violation of the International Boundary and Water Commission (IBWC), which was established in 1889. And Texas State Troopers told The New York Times that “there were explicit orders [from supervisors] to deny water to migrants and to tell them to go back to Mexico.” This is consistent with a story published in The Guardian in which troopers reported treating a four-year-old girl who passed out from heat exhaustion in 100-degree temperatures, only to watch the Texas National Guard push the girl and her group back into the river to Mexico.  

We’re doing what we can to stay on top of migration news at the border, in Ohio, and in the Cleveland immigration court.

In this month's newsletter, please read about: 1) Immigration Court in Cleveland, 2) ICE Air: update on removal flight trends, 3) The Human Costs of the Asylum Ban, 4) At the Border: recent incidents, 5) Darién Gap: Tourism Booms while Migrants Suffer, and 6) Texas Deploys Floating Buoys in the Rio Grande.

TAKE ACTION on any of these items: A) Tell Biden to cut ICE and instead fund real human needs, B) Tell senators to oppose the Supplemental Border Funding Bill, C) Tell your congressperson to vote no on the DHS Security Appropriations Bill, D) Tell Congress to reject new bills that deny access to asylum at the southern border, E) Sign up for the Biden deportation tracker, F) Urge Congress to pass the Afghan  Adjustment Act. 

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The electoral controversy in Guatemala is gaining attention on the international level.

In the US, both the White House spokesperson Karine Jean-Pierre and Brian Nichols, the US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, have made public statements this week urging the government of Guatemala to allow the August 20 presidential runoff to proceed without interference.

Now the head of the Organization of American States (OAS) will head to Guatemala to discuss the controversy directly with President Giammettei. On July 26, the Permanent Council of the OAS held a special meeting to address the recent attempts by the Guatemala government to interfere in the election process. Both the US and Canada were among the nations that requested the special session at which Irma Palencia, president of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) in Guatemala recounted the timeline of government interference (noted below in this article) since the first round of the presidential election was held June 25. OAS Secretary General Luis Almagro (of Uruguay) is expected to visit President Giammettei on July 31.

In the meantime, IRTF has sent letters to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the US House Foreign Affairs Committee, urging them to echo the statements made by the State Department and to impose sanctions on government and business elites who are profiting from the chronic corruption in Guatemala. You can read that letter here:

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Concern is growing about the increasingly authoritarian measures Guatemala's ruling class has been taking to crack down on political opposition, free speech, and anti-corruption measures. On July 24, the top U.S. diplomat for the Western Hemisphere called Guatemala's foreign minister to stress that the runoff should be allowed to take place "without interference or harassment of the candidates or political parties. Guatemalans have the right to elect their government," Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols said on social media on Monday.

IRTF has contacted members of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations and the US House Committee on Foreign Affairs, urging them to echo the statements of Brian Nichols and take specific actions to sanction the elites in Guatemala who are benefiting from the chronic corruption in the country. See IRTF's RRN letter of 26 JUL 2023. 

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Will the Guatemalan people be allowed to vote for a government that is actually democratic for the first time since 1954?

 Or will the US and Canada stand back and watch as long-time “democratic ally” – the repressive, aptly-named ‘Covenant of the Corrupt’ government – carries out sustained attacks on the electoral process and the Semilla Party?

On June 25, to the shock of most Guatemalans, international observers and indeed the “Covenant of the Corrupt” (an alliance of corrupt judges, prosecutors, politicians, and economic and military elites who run the country), the opposition-party named Movimiento Semilla (“seed movement”) finished 2nd place in first-round elections, forcing a run-off against the establishment UNE Party (candidate Sandra Torres, a former first lady).

The “Covenant of the Corrupt”has been carrying out brazen, January 6/Trump-like attacks on the democratic aspirations of the Guatemalan people, targeting the electoral process itself and the Semilla Party that is favored to win the August 20 run-off vote.

Over the past ten years, the North American media has reported on the plight of millions of forced migrants desperately trying to cross Mexico and get into the US. A disproportionately high number of these refugees and forced migrants are fleeing Guatemala. Many have fled from land, environment and human rights defense struggles that our organization (Rights Action) supports, having suffered evictions and violence at the hands of successive Covenant of the Corrupt governments in partnership with transnational companies in the sectors of mining, hydro-electric dams and the for-export production of African palm oil, sugar cane, bananas and coffee.

Yet, in the face of this, the US and Canadian governments (and companies) have consistently prioritized their political and economic and political interests over basic issues of democracy, human rights, the rule of law and the guaranteeing of a basic minimum standard of decent living conditions for a majority of Guatemalans.

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Guatemalan protesters took to the streets again on Monday demanding that the attorney general and a handful of prosecutors step down over their alleged efforts to impede the upcoming presidential runoff election. Marchers called for the ouster of Attorney General Maria Consuelo Porras, whose office is seeking to disqualify the Semilla (Seed) Party of Bernardo Arevalo, a social democrat who surged into one of two August 20 runoff spots, shocking many in the nation. Judge Fredy Orellana and prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche have also drawn the ire of protesters since the June 25 first-round vote. On Curruchiche's orders, Orellana directed the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to disqualify the Semilla Party, alleging anomalies in how it was created in 2017. The Tribunal did not comply with the order. In response, judicial agents have twice raided the TSE, and sought to arrest a functionary there. On July 21 they searched the headquarters of Semilla in Guatemala City.

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The Guatemalan presidential candidate Bernardo Arévalo has denounced a police raid on his center-left Semilla party headquarters as a “corrupt” show of “political persecution” just a month before the high-stakes runoff election. In a post on Twitter, Arévalo derided the raid as a “flagrant demonstration of the political persecution we have denounced”. The presidential hopeful has blamed the police action on a “corrupt minority” but did not go into further detail. The raid follows an investigation into alleged irregularities in the registration of more than 5,000 Semilla members, which the party has denied and which has been widely criticized by rights groups as improper interference in Central America’s biggest democracy. Arevalo is scheduled to go up against former first lady Sandra Torres on August 20. 

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For decades the United States has armed and supported military and paramilitary forces around Central America in its fight to oppress challenges to global capitalism. In this glorious struggle no means and violent actions were too extreme for "the nation of freedom and liberty," no matter who the victims were. Especially under the Reagan administration, violence by US-trained and armed forces ramped up, with one of the most devastating acts being the El Mozote massacre of December 1981 when the Salvadoran Army's Atlácatl Battallion killed more than 800 civilians, including children, in the small village in northern El Salvador. 

In this period of war crimes one of Reagan's most important supporters was Elliott Abrams, who served under President Reagan in the US State Department as both Assistant Secretary of Human Rights and Assistant Secretary of Inter-American Affairs. From the beginning on Abrams' was a strong supporter of the US's insurgency policies and a strong defender of dictators like Ríos Montt in Guatemala under who's regime mass murder, rape and torture were committed against the Ixil Mayan people, events later classified as a genocide by the United Nations. When asked about the US's record on El Salvador in 1994, Elliott Abrams called it a "fabulous achievement." 

Thirty years after the end of his initial service in the State Department under Ronald Reagan, Donald Trump brought Abrams back to the forefront of international politics as the United States Special Representative for Venezuela, were he represented the US's policy of starving the nation and support of the attempted coup in Venezuela. In 2020 Abrams additionally took over as Special Representation for Iran, pushing sanctions that harmed the Iranian civilian population. 

Now the Biden Administration is sending to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee the nomination of Elliott Abrams to join the State Department Bipartisan Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy. It is clear that Elliot Abrams does not belong in another US administration. Please urge all Committee members to oppose his deployment. 

You can help in our (and other human rights groups') efforts.


1) Click here to see if your US senator is a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Urge them to oppose the nomination of Elliott Abrams.

2) Send a message to your US senator even if they are not a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Tell them that if this comes up for a vote in the full US Senate, you urge them to oppose the nomination of Elliott Abrams. You can find contact info for your US senators at

3) Send a message to your US congressperson.  Tell them that if this comes up for a vote in the full US House, you urge them to oppose the nomination of Elliott Abrams. Take action at