Six gunshots killed Hemil Leonel Nájera Trigueros on April 8 in the municipality of la Libertad, in the Petén department of Guatemala. Nájera Trigueros was a land defender and a campaign staffer for the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP).
MLP registered as a political party in late 2018 as the electoral vehicle for the peasant organization Codeca. It is campaigning on issues raised by the peasantry and by Indigenous communities.
This popular force is only one of the forces currently challenging the Guatemalan government. On one side, the oligarchy is facing the organized popular movement, something they thought they had permanently defeated after the 1960-96 civil war. On the other side, they are dealing with an urban middle class that refuses to allow them to keep plundering government funds.
Hemil Leonel Nájera Trigueros is the ninth member of the MLP to be found dead or to have disappeared since the electoral campaign began. Three of the victims were congressional candidates, and the other six were founding members of the party. (tinyurl.com/yxvnq3ka, in Spanish)
The MLP is proposing, among other things, the nationalization of resources and utilities, lowering government salaries and initiating a Popular and Plurinational Constituent Assembly. As a minimum proposal it wants the creation of autonomous regions for the various Indigenous peoples in the country.
Guatemala is no stranger to the killing of social movement leaders, and neither is Central America as a region. There have been countless killings of peasant and Indigenous leaders who resist mining projects and other incursions by transnationals that steal land and destroy the environment.
Popular forces and middle class
The corruption of the governing right-wing alliance has caused a political crisis ever since a series of large mobilizations in the capital forced the resignation of then president Otto Pérez Molina in 2015.
These demonstrations were based in the urban middle class, but were supported by popular forces because of their struggle against deep-seated corruption. This middle class, who care about dealing with corruption more than any particular political debate, have mostly rallied behind the Movimiento Semilla and its candidate, Thelma Aldana.
As a former Attorney General, Aldana worked with the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG, in Spanish) to initiate a series of corruption investigations into the highest levels of government. The most important of these was the investigation against Pérez Molina that sparked the mass demonstrations.
In this sense Aldana poses a threat to the so-called “Pact of the Corrupt,” the alliance of a group of right-wing parties, military officers and businesspeople who run the country. Another opponent is the National Union of Hope party, which, despite its own corruption scandals, has the funds and organization to challenge the ruling coalition.
Right wing returns to dictatorship tactics
How is the Guatemalan oligarchy trying to resolve the country’s political crisis? It is throwing its support behind the candidacy of Zury Ríos — a grim indication of its aims. Ríos is the daughter of Efraín Ríos Montt, the dictator from the 1980s who was convicted of genocide for his policies against the Ixil Maya people.
In the years it has held power, the Pact of the Corrupt has managed to take control of almost every state institution in the country, with the important exception of the Constitutional Court. Using its control of the other courts, the Pact has blocked Thelma Aldana’s candidacy and even issued a warrant for her arrest.
Not only manipulating the legal system to prevent Aldana from participating, but killing social leaders outright, it appears that even the minimum notions of democracy are at stake in Guatemala. Despite its disagreements with the Guatemalan right wing, U.S. imperialism appears willing to allow this return to the previous century’s dictatorships. The popular movement will need to mobilize to defend the fragile democracy that has ruled the country for the last three decades.