Thelma Cabrera (El Asintal, 1970) is sure that it is possible to build a new Guatemala. She talks about the importance of the peoples, of nature, of making deep transformations and of the need for a plurinational constituent assembly to put an end to what, she says, the “failed state co-opted by criminals” and thus promote a new Constitution in the country. .
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In the 2019 elections, she was the only indigenous and peasant woman candidate for the presidency with the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP), a left-wing party and critic of the Government with which she managed to finish, against all odds, in fourth place. place. Now, however, she will not be able to contest the general elections next June: the Guatemalan Supreme Electoral Tribunal has denied her registration as well as that of her candidacy partner, former Human Rights Ombudsman Jordán Rodas, vice-presidential candidate.
The electoral authorities allege that Rodas did not present a valid document confirming that he has no outstanding accounts with the State. He has reiterated that he complied with this requirement and, in fact, has published that certificate, issued in December, in which it is stated that “it has no pending claims or lawsuits.” Rodas, who is an uncomfortable figure for the current government of Alejandro Giammattei and is in exile for fear of possible reprisals after having fought against corruption, assures that he complies with everything established by the Constitution and that the decision is due to “political reasons ”. He denounces a “fraud” in the face of the elections and assures that they will exhaust all legal avenues to appeal. At the moment, the party has presented an appeal to be able to register in the elections and remains waiting for the Supreme Court of Justice to rule.
The organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) considers that both the exclusion of Cabrera y Rodas and the other candidates by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal “is based on dubious grounds”, while the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights It has called on the Guatemalan State to “guarantee political rights, pluralism, and equal participation in the electoral process.”
Cabrera maintains that the problem is not them, but “the system itself, which is now afraid of the proposal of the original peoples.” He attends elDiario.es by video call while walking under some huge trees in Santo Domingo Suchitepéquez, in the southwest of the country, where he has attended a Codeca assembly. He apologizes because he has to leave early to attend the funeral of two close relatives who were victims of an assault.
This 52-year-old woman belonging to the Maya Mam ethnic group is the mother of four children and has dedicated her life to working at home and in the fields, as a coffee picker. For more than two decades, he has been a member of the Peasant Development Committee (Codeca), a popular movement that brings together more than 200,000 people, and it is in this collective fight for human rights where, he says, he has obtained “all his knowledge.” because in school he could only study up to sixth grade. As she explains, she decided to jump into politics “out of courage”, to improve, within that collective movement, the conditions of women, among other things.
The electoral process officially began in Guatemala at the end of January and HRW has already warned that the June elections will be held in a context of deteriorating rule of law. It has also been reported the strong repression against journalists and human rights activists. What is happening in the country?
We are in a very worrying context where the persecution and stigmatization of human rights defenders does not stop; what is happening now in Guatemala is part of electoral fraud. The people are suffering the exclusion of a racist, classist and patriarchal State. It is a failed, corrupted state.
To Jordan [Rodas] They exclude us and me as a presidential candidate of the MLP, but they register people who are violating the Constitution, their political Constitution (in reference to the conservative candidate Zury Ríos, daughter of the dictator convicted of genocide Efraín Ríos Mont, who will participate in the elections to despite the fact that the Magna Carta prevents caudillos, coup leaders or similar and their relatives from running for the presidency and vice presidency). The MLP is anti-patriarchal, anti-colonial and anti-imperialist, a proposal that comes from the peoples, from the corners of many of the resistances and now we can only wait for the resolution of the Supreme Court of Justice, because the process of receiving applications for registration of candidates ends March 25.
What do you think about the fact that the electoral authorities prevent your party from participating in the elections?
The decision of the Electoral Tribunal to reject the candidacy of the MLP is a political strategy because that would be the door for the peoples to play on the same field as the system, but the system will not let us. It is a political strategy for economic power, a matter of exclusion. The powerful in Guatemala are afraid of the struggle of the peoples because we have taken a first step, they are afraid that the peoples will take that path within the same racist State.
Before you mentioned Zury Ríos, how do you understand that she can be a candidate?
The powerful themselves are the ones who violate their political Constitution and, to guarantee that power, they have to exclude us, the peoples. It is the fear that the system has. I identify myself as a woman from the Mam people and Jordán represents the mestizo people, and we have had the ability to articulate our struggles, to open the space for people who think about structural changes. That articulation of forces is what the rich and the genocidal fear. With the registration of Zury Ríos they can already say that there is a woman participating [en la contienda electoral], but we have made our agenda. It is a radical proposal, and that does not serve the boss.
They entrenched themselves in the Supreme Court of Justice, in the Constitutional Court, in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and in the Office of the Human Rights Ombudsman. In this last institution they appointed someone [Alejandro Córdova, que denunció a su antecesor Rodas por supuestas irregularidades] that serves themselves. The servant has to serve the boss, if not, they punish him.
What do you mean when you talk about voter fraud?
We have been through many difficulties. In 2019 we were given our MLP credential when there was only a month left before the elections and, from there, the fraud began. They did not let us open bank accounts, they excluded us, and in 2021 they even invalidated our municipal assemblies, although we later returned to them. There is also a persecution against me: they raised two files for early campaigning, for participating in a video in which I spoke of the earth’s cure and for giving an award for the anniversary of Codeca. In no case was I calling for a vote and they accused me of early campaigning, that is also part of electoral fraud.
Now they won’t let us register as a couple and a complaint is filed against Jordán Rodas, despite meeting the requirements and we still don’t know what they were based on. The explanation given by the magistrates is shameful, we do not understand it. That is why we say that it is a fraud orchestrated by the same system, by the rich, the so-called Cacif (Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations), which is afraid of the proposal of the original peoples. The problem is not me or Jordan. They are afraid that the privileges they enjoy today at the expense of the people will end.
What are they going to do if they finally can’t stand for election?
Our goal is not to be presidential candidates, but to fight, to make history. We have already shown that we have the ability to play in the court of the system, but the system is afraid of us. We have a very defined horizon of continuing to fight when the elections are over. Our struggles are directed at the mayoralties, local power, and towards Congress, because we have representatives who have already been registered in the candidacy. They will be able to decapitate us, but they will not be able to eliminate the struggle of the peoples.
We do not ask for positions, we do not organize ourselves to be public officials, but we were born to denounce injustices and the system itself, so that the peoples could build their political instrument.
What do you propose from the MLP? What are those deep changes that you want to carry out in Guatemala?
We propose a process of popular and plurinational constituent assembly. In Guatemala there is no State that guarantees the rights of the population, that is why we say that it is a failed, corrupt State, co-opted by criminals, which is why it is urgent to build a common home for everyone, draft an original political Constitution that comes from the villages.
We want to make root changes because the common goods have been privatized and have plundered the natural resources of our territories. We want change because in Guatemala, when anti-corruption judges and prosecutors do their job, they end up in exile. We also propose austerity, the reduction of salaries for public officials and that security be coordinated by the peoples.
Who are these criminals you are referring to?
When we talk about the State being co-opted by criminals, we are referring to the Cacif, to the private companies that plunder the country, because the criminals are there to respond to the industry, the landowners, the hoarders of wealth. They see us as animals, they imprison us, they kill us, they persecute us, they call us criminals when the real criminals are blatantly stealing the people’s money with their ties. We carry courage within us because we see how the widow and orphan suffer, and how we impoverished peoples suffer in these situations. They do not respect life or the rights of people or those of mother earth.
What do you propose to combat corruption and poverty, two of the main problems in Guatemala?
Within the government plan, we contemplate mother earth as a living being because up to now it has been kidnapped for monocultures, to divert rivers, they have turned it into a commodity. We are not going to take anything from anyone, but we have to review how these lands were obtained because many of the lands belonged to the State and appear under the names of corporations about which nothing is known. We also want to promote food sovereignty and not welfare projects.