Indigenous groups march 200km across Guatemala against corruption

Hundreds of indigenous people from across Guatemala walk 200km to demand an end to corruption and rights violations.

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    Indigenous groups in Guatemala march against corruption [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]
    Indigenous groups in Guatemala march against corruption [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera]

    Guatemala City - Hundreds of indigenous people from across Guatemala ended a week-long march on Wednesday against rights violations and what they called the corruption plaguing the country's upcoming election.

    "We are marching for justice and to defend our rights," Fidelia Ramirez, a member of the Achi Maya council of Ancestral Authorities, told Al Jazeera.

    The march was organised by traditional indigenous authorities from various indigenous peoples, along with organisations from civil society, including the Committee for Campesino Unity, church groups, students, and feminist groups.

    It began on May 1 in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala's second-largest city. Participants walked the nearly 200km to Guatemala City, drawing attention to the alleged corruption gripping the country's political system.

    "Those who have entered into government have entered into a pact with militaries, the business community, and drug traffickers to only trying to remain in power," Daniel Pascual, the coordinator of the Committee for Campesino Unity, told Al Jazeera. 

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    Organisers also rejected a number of proposals currently making their way through Congress , including a reform the national non-governmental law, the National Reconciliation law, which would release former soldiers convicted of war crimes, a prison reform, which would also release war criminals and a law that would recognise a family as the marriage between a man and woman and criminalise abortions.

    "They are only implementing laws that benefit themselves," Pascual said. "They continue to take the wealth out of our country."

    'Not confident in the election'

    On Monday, the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which the current government has refused to renew its mandate, said that Guatemalan prosecutors launched an investigation into a presidential candidate six members of Congress and a cabinet minister for suspected corruption. The presidential candidate, Estuardo Galdamez of the National Convergence Front (FCN), rejected the allegations. 

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    Last month, presidential candidate Mario Estrada of the right-wing National Change Union party was arrested by agents of the US Drug Enforcement Administration for conspiracy to traffic drugs to the United States. The candidate is alleged to have requested money and weapons from the Mexican Sinaloa Cartel in exchange for free passage in Guatemala.

    CICIG probes have led to the prosecution and removal of many government officials, including former President Otto Perez Molina, who resigned in 2015.

    "We are not confident in the election," said Ramirez at Wednesday's march, referring to the June 16 general election. "We do not want any more corruption in Congress. If one corrupted official remains, then we are obliged to return to the streets."

    Respecting rights

    Indigenous groups also marched to demand the rights of native people. They argue that the government has only worked to dispossess them from their territories in the name of development.

    "We have a right to protect the environment," Ramirez said.

    Officials were not immediately available for comment. 

    Indigenous groups also demanded that the government respect their human rights [Jeff Abbott/Al Jazeera] 

    Organisers say that more than 560 orders for arrest were issued against environmental and human rights defenders in 2018 alone.

    "We are showing the world what the reality is in our country," said Esperanza Puluc, a Maya Kaqchikel woman from San Juan Sacatepequez.

    "We are the most excluded in our country," she told Al Jazeera. "We are struggling for a more inclusive country, where we are all represented."

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News