From Socialist Voice, July 2009

Increased fears of a coup in Guatemala

As the rise of left-wing and anti-imperialist leaders in Latin America continues, the resistance of the elite increases. This can be seen with the continuing attempts to undermine Hugo Chávez in Venezuela, the recent assassination plot against Evo Morales in Bolivia, and the campaign of violence and intimidation against the FMLN in El Salvador.
     At the moment it can also be seen clearly in Guatemala, where civil unrest and the mobilisation of the elite is attempting to overthrow the first left-wing President in fifty years. President Álvaro Colom, who was elected eighteen months ago, is the first leftist president of Guatemala since the CIA-orchestrated coup overthrew Jacobo Árbenz in 1954, sparking a 36-year genocide.
     Now a murdered lawyer’s taped accusation that the president wanted him dead is threatening to topple the presidency and has deepened the political divide between rich and poor. The attorney, Rodrigo Rosenberg, claimed in a video filmed days before his murder: “If you are watching this message it is because I was assassinated by President Álvaro Colom.” Colom has denied any involvement, and there is no evidence pointing towards anything other than his innocence.
     Rosenberg was uncovering corruption in the Banrural, the country’s largest bank. It is believed that he was going to go public about the bank laundering drug money through shell companies for drug cartels. Colom has said that the Rosenberg video is part of a right-wing conspiracy designed to destabilise the government and ultimately bring him down. In an interview he has suggested that Rosenberg was coerced into making the video. It is also worth noting that the video was made in the office of a journalist, Mario David García, who had his national television news programme suspended in 1998 when the then president, Vinicio Cerezo, said that rogue generals were planning a coup. García also ran for president for an ultra right-wing party in the 1980s.
     What is clear is that the elite in Guatemala are calling for the overthrow of the president, and a coup is becoming more possible every day.
     The elite (less than 10 per cent of the population owns 75 per cent of the land) have always opposed Colom, while Guatemala’s indigenous Mayan poor overwhelmingly support the President.
     Since his election Colom has moved to tax the rich and to build schools and clinics in disadvantaged areas. His government has challenged the traditional power-brokers, including former military officials. Earlier this year he agreed to open a police archive that contains information on left-wing activists abducted and killed during the country’s civil war.
     Guatemala’s past has been marred by a series of military coups. When the war ended, politically motivated murder did not. Eleven years ago, for example, a Catholic bishop, Juan Gerardi, was bludgeoned to death after delivering a damning report on abuses committed by the state during the war.
     Now lawyers, CEOs, doctors and other upper-class Guatemalans, usually flanked by their bodyguards, have marched in Guatemala City to demand that the President leave office. Peasants and those who live in the country’s slums have marched to support their president, who has spent the last eighteen months focusing on job creation and social programmes as well as tackling organised crime and fighting corruption in the federal police.
     Colom has declared that he will not leave office under any circumstances. “They would have to kill me. I will not allow Guatemala to lose what it has waited for for fifty years because of a bunch of irresponsible people.”
[JM]

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