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Guatemala: Protecting democracy through International Grassroots Networks

Bernardo Arevalo was sworn into office on January 14 largely because indigenous, faith, and grassroots  communities rallied to protect democracy since elections last August. Faith in Action, HOPE Border Institute and our partners in the U.S., Mexico and Central America are proud to have played some small supporting role in these efforts. Thousands of people emailed and called the White House and Congress asking the U.S. to do more to support Guatemalans, by sanctioning corrupt officials and business people. Through the Root Causes Initiative and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, we organized a delegation of religious leaders to Guatemala for the second round of elections and brought religious and grassroots leaders from Guatemala to Washington, DC to meet with State Department and White House officials.

In Guatemala, COFOA continues to grow its organizing in rural and indigenous communities in Solala. COFOA Guatemala worked with the Catholic Dioceses and indigenous organizations to promote participation in the local elections around a community-driven agenda, and supported  national demonstrations to prevented the election results from being overthrown.

New opportunities and challenges to democracy will emerge as Arevalo works to govern. The forces of corruption that have been at work will likely double down. To counter these forces, COFOA will continue and expand its grassroots organizing efforts in Solala and sustain its work with Root Causes Initiative.

In 2019, Faith in Action International worked with COFOA, Hope Border Institute, and dozens of faith-based organizations in Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Mexico, and the US to create the Root Causes Initiative to change US policy toward Central America.

Through this initiative we built support for financial sanctions against the corrupt politicians and business interests trying to overturn election results. A delegation led by Guatemalan Cardinal Álvaro Ramazzini and El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz traveled to Washington, DC to meet with high-level officials at the White House and State Department. Nely Cuj, a young indigenous organizer with Communities of Faith Organizing for Action (COFOA), Bishops Domingo Buezo and Rodolfo Valenzuela, President of the Guatemalan Catholic Bishops joined a large international Zoom call with Guatemalan diaspora leaders and friends to encourage and motivate more people to stand with Guatemala at this pivotal point. Many of you joined in signing a petition urging President Biden and Vice President Harris to protect democracy. In response, the US government sanctioned numerous Guatemalan officials involved in efforts to overturn elections.

As COFOA builds a new organizing chapter in Guatemala, we are supporting Guatemalan efforts to reverse the attack on democratic institutions. We’ve pushed the Biden Administration to impose targeted financial sanctions on the corrupt officials and elites who’ve persecuted journalists, human rights activists, judges, and prosecutors. In response to efforts to undermine election results, we’ve reiterated the call for sanctions in a letter from 75 organizations, organized a delegation of faith leaders to Guatemala during the second round of voting, met with State Department officials, and worked with allies in DC, including the Latin American Working Group and WOLA, to press for a more consistent U.S. approach to Guatemala.

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