Since the beginning of October, Guatemalans have been blocking roads across the country and taking to the streets. Later in October, many camped outside the public prosecutor’s office in Guatemala City. Protesters called for the resignation of officials who were attempting to undermine the recent election and win of Bernardo Arévalo, the centrist anti-corruption candidate from Guatemala’s Seed Movement party, against former first lady Sandra Torres, who is considered part of the long-standing political establishment.
“Bernardo Arevalo’s victory is seen as a repudiation of the political elite in the Central American nation, long the target of corruption allegations,” reported the BBC.
That Arévalo was able to run at all, much less win with a party that has not received much support since it was founded in 2017, could be seen as a stroke of luck, maybe good timing. Another explanation is that the doggedness of years of grassroots organizing and building support beyond the major cities has paid off, according to Foreign Policy.
“It’s not just that [Seed] got lucky,” wrote Meléndez Sánchez in a tweet that was mentioned in Foreign Policy. “In a sense, the party made its own luck by working diligently and patiently for years, building an organization based on democratic principles when NO ONE — not even themselves—thought they stood a chance.”
The post-election drama continues to play out as the transition period for the new president draws closer to January. As one of the estimated 1.8 million Guatemalans living in the United States as of 2021, according to a Pew Research Center analysis, I was baffled and skeptical, not so much by the slow-rolling coup that I was reading about—this was more or less predictable because of the country’s decades of armed conflict and corruption. I was in disbelief about how the Semilla Movement gained so much support.
As I read more about the mobilization of indigenous and civic pro-democracy groups all over the country, I started to feel something I had not felt in a long time: faith. It’s a feeling or belief that democracy could be real and not just a set of mechanical processes manipulated and optimized like any machine for human convenience and gain. It’s not something I expected to feel when musing on the current political demise of my home country.
When I left Guatemala in 1982 at the age of 5, I joined the immigration tide of thousands of people fleeing Guatemala’s civil war, poverty, gangs and corruption to enter the United States illegally. For many of us who grew up here, Guatemala was a country so mired in its history of dictatorships and decades of civil war that the idea that any kind of democracy could emerge and flourish there—the place we had thrown ourselves to the mercy of the desert to flee—was beyond anything we could imagine.
But many stayed behind and are perhaps teaching one of the broader lessons that can be drawn from the Seed Movement’s resounding victory: that in a country with a fragile and eroding democracy, belief coupled with working diligently on democratic principles can lead to change.
It’s a faith I also bring to our reporting work at Carolina Public Press, that if we continue to work diligently and patiently for years, we will continue to support the larger work of democracy in our communities, in our state and beyond.
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