Raul Molina — a former Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG) candidate for mayor of Guatemala City, an academic and a refugee advocate now resident in the US — addressed a public meeting on July 4.
The meeting concluded an Australian tour of Molina that raised awareness of the political situation in Guatemala since President Alvaro Colom took office in January, and of organising among Guatemalan refugees living in the US.
Molina noted the important part played by international solidarity and human rights organisations during the 1980s and '90s, when the genocidal military terror against the Guatemalan people was at its height. During this time, tens of thousands of mainly indigenous people were massacred or made refugees within Guatemala. Many also sought asylum overseas. There are now 1.5 million Guatemalans living in the US (of whom 35% are "undocumented aliens").
Although Colom claims some left social-democratic credentials (his candidacy was supported by the URNG in the first election following the peace accords in 2003), he has since distanced himself from the left, although some elements of the URNG have remained with him.
In the latest election, the URNG-MAIS (a unity project of the revolutionary left and progressive social movement activists) sought alliances with both Colom and Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu. Both refused and the left's electoral results were poor. Menchu's party returned just four representatives and the URNG-MAIS two.
The URNG has stated that the reform process that commenced with the signing of the peace accords in 1996 has now stalled. It has called for full implementation of the accords and for land reform.
Molina spoke of the URNG's tactical mistakes in the recent past, which have resulted in a divided left, and argued that the URNG-MAIS need to open up to other left forces. He pointed to left unity projects in other Latin American countries, such as the Frente Amplio in Uruguay, as possible models.
Molina said a united left would currently constitute only 15% of the vote, but would be well positioned to grow from this base. He said the increasing shift to the left in Latin America will have an impact on Guatemalan politics and that the URNG-MAIS is looking towards a victory by the Farabundi Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) in El Salvador in 2009 to boost the progressive forces in the rest of Central America.
Molina drew a stark picture of life in Guatemala, where the climate of insecurity and violence is approximating the last years of the civil war, with murder, child kidnappings and the rise of armed groups. The president's response is to increase "security" — shorthand for taking action against social movements (such as a recent move by the army to attack an occupation by landless campesinos).
An important part of the struggle for fundamental social change in Guatemala is to organise Guatemalans living overseas, Molina said. Since September 2001, Molina has been involved in establishing local networks within the US, campaigning on issues such as the granting of temporary protection status for undocumented refugees.
The Guatemalan Peace and Solidarity Network is also campaigning for the right of overseas Guatemalans to vote and for direct representation in the electoral process in Guatemala.