Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Guatemalan Women Go on Anti-Government Hunger Strike

The hunger strike is sometimes used as a form of protest in Latin America oftentimes to denounce government policies and actions. This year alone, former Chilean dissidents imprisoned during the Pinochet military regime went on a forty-one day hunger strike while Venezuelan opposition leader Leopoldo Lopez ended a 30-day fast last June. Guatemala has been no exception to this trend as two women commenced their own opposition hunger strike on August 14th.

Human rights activists Bárbara Hernández and Gabriela Flores have gone at least four days fasting to call for the resignation of scandal-plagued President Otto Pérez Molina as well as the postponement of the general election scheduled for September 6th.

“We act in solidarity with the grandfathers who have had to go with their kin to the morgue and identify their grandchildren who died in the midst of this violence caused by systemic corruption,” declared Hernández to the press last Friday as they began their protest from a tent in front of the Metropolitan Cathedral in Guatemala City.

We overflowed with anger...and we are seeking the immediate resignation of the president who symbolizes impunity,” admitted Hernández who is a member of the local Unidad de Protección a Defensoras y Defensores de Derechos Humanos de Guatemala. (Flores, meanwhile, is a representative of the Asociación de Jóvenes para el Desarrollo y Rescate Social).

Both protesters also claimed to have “strong evidence” linking the former army commander turned president to “crimes of corruption and crimes against humanity.”
They suggested that any followers or sympathizers at home and abroad should campaign human rights groups and NGOs in their respective countries to ensure the safety of the strikers.

In an interview Hernández admitted that she and her colleague decided to go on a hunger strike after the Guatemalan Congress last week refused to strip Pérez of his presidential immunity. As we mentioned last June, Pérez is facing plenty of pressure over the corruption controversies against him and his cohorts:

  • Vice President Roxana Baldetti resigned from her post on May 8th after her personal secretary was accused by legislative and international investigators of running a bribery ring.
  • Thirteen patients died after Social Security officials reportedly received kickbacks in exchange for awarding of a $15 billion kidney dialysis contract.
  • 84% of Guatemalans poll respondents believe “Otto Pérez Molina supports a corrupt system and should resign.”
  • Hundreds of people have marching against the government in Guatemala City last Saturday and every weekend since March.
The odds of Hernández and Flores achieving their main goals via the hunger strike appear to be slim. (Pérez last May steadfastly refused to resign and declared, “I have a constitutional mandate.”) They will also be hoping to avoid the same fate as anti-government hunger strikers in neighboring Honduras who were forcibly vacated last month from their tent camps in Tegucigalpa. Yet the pair could succeed in calling greater attention both domestically and internationally to their cause, and exert greater pressure on the Guatemalan government to tackle widespread corruption. Hernández and Flores are strong in their beliefs though it remains to be seen what will result from this hunger strike.

YouTube Source – teleSUR

Online Sources (English) – Reuters, The Latin Americanist, Bloomberg, Global Voices Online

Online Sources (Spanish) – Radio Bio-Bio, Siglo21.com.gt, El Mundo, Lainformacion.com

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