A. General Observations
1. Political rights in Guatemala are founded upon the Constitution of the Republic and are also governed by the laws on the subject.
The Guatemalan legal system sets forth a body of standards that uphold the free and democratic exercise of the political rights to which the individual is entitled as a citizen with capacity to participate in the conduct of a country's public affairs.2
2. The foregoing notwithstanding, in practice the political rights are not exercised to the fullest, and the situation is not in keeping with the provisions of the Constitution.
3. In this Chapter, the Commission will analyze the various aspects related to political rights, their legal governance and respect for political rights in Guatemala today.
B. Political history in recent decades
1. To understand the situation of political rights in Guatemala in both theory and practice, one must understand its political evolution in recent decades, inasmuch as that evolution has great bearing upon the current situation vis-á-vis the country's public affairs.
In view of the foregoing, this section will provide a general outline of how Guatemala's politics have evolved in the last 40 years.
2. In the mid 1940's, a revolutionary movement developed in Guatemala that involved both civilians and military personnel. That movement broke with the system of political traditionalism that had prevailed until that time. On October 20, 1944, a triumvirate composed of one civilian, Jorge Toriello, and two military men, Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán and Francisco Javier Arana, came to power. This had the sympathy and backing of the majority of the Guatemalan people and began a stage in the nation's political life that has exerted a powerful influence on the direction that country has taken.
The revolutionary movement in question replaced the regime of General Jorge Ubico, who had governed from 1931 to 1944. As a result of public pressure, on June 30, 1944, Ubico resigned in favor of three generals and on July 3 of that year Federico Ponce Vaides, another military man, was designated President.
3. Elections were held in December 1944. Dr. Juan José Arévalo, a prestigious educator who was living in Argentina, won a sweeping victory. He took over the Office of the Presidency on February 1, 1945; his six-year term of office ended in 1951. The Arevalo government was characterized by its support for culture and its various realms, by its promotion of and adherence to pluralistic democracy, by the enactment of such important laws as the Labor and Social Security Code, by its encouragement of a free union movement and by its respect for the other state powers, i.e., the Congress and the Judiciary. The foregoing notwithstanding, Arévalo had to deal with a number of subversive movements in order to complete his reformist Government.
4. Arévalo's successor to the Office of the Presidency was Colonel Jacobo Arbenz Guzmán, who was elected to the office in 1951 in what was considered to be a democratic election.
The Government of Arbenz Guzmán initiated a process of agrarian reform and encouraged nationalization of the United Fruit Company plants operating in Guatemala. This made for a climate of domestic and foreign intrigue bent upon bringing down the Arbenz Guzmán Government.
In June 1954 Guatemala was invaded by forces under the command of Colonel Carlos Castillo Armas, who, from exile, was the center of the opposition to the Government of Arbenz Guzmán. This movement caused the President to relinquish his power to a military triumvirate which negotiated with Castillo Armas in El Salvador. The latter joined the Military Governing Junta, and a few weeks later had absolute power as the sole head of government. Castillo Armas was assassinated in June 1956. During his Government, there were massive violations of human rights.
5. With the death of Castillo Armas, power was exercised by the First Designate to the Office of the Presidency and shortly thereafter by a military triumvirate that announced elections. General Miguel Idígoras Fuentes was elected President. He came to office on March 1, 1958, and remained there until removed on March 3, 1963, by Colonel Enrique Peralta Azurdia, among other reasons because of a fear that Dr. Arévalo, who was in exile, would win the elections for the next term of office.
The Government of General Idígoras Fuentes was considered to be democratic; the state powers functioned normally and Central American integration was promoted. On the other hand, this Government was the target of repeated allegations of administrative corruption.
6. Colonel Peralta Azurdia governed from 1963 to 1966. He attempted to establish order on the basis of political repression. During his de facto term of office, the guerrilla movement resurfaced and the National Constituent Assembly issued the Constitution of 1965, still in force.
7. In 1966, Lic. Julio César Méndez Montenegro became President of the Republic. He had replaced his deceased brother, Lic. Mario Méndez Montenegro, as the leader of the Revolutionary Party, one of the political organizations that were the offspring of the 1944 revolution. During the Méndez Montenegro Government, the abuses committed by the military, which the Government was unable to control, increased as did the guerrilla activity. The ambassadors of the United States and West Germany were kidnapped and murdered.
8. In 1970, elections were held for the presidential term of office provided for in the constitution. The election was won by Colonel Carlos Arana Osorio, a candidate backed by a coalition of rightist parties that included the National Liberation Party founded by Castillo Armas. Human rights violations increased considerably during the period subsequent to the election of Arana Osorio. Further, leftist-guerrilla activities were brought to a bloody end while paramilitary groups gained strength.
9. From 1974 to 1978, General Kjell Eugenio Laugeraud García governed for the constitutional term of office; he had the political backing of the National Liberation Party which was in coalition with the Institutional Democratic Party.
By allowing some degree of latitude, the Government of Laugeraud García exchanged views with the political parties and unions, and managed to curb the violence.
10. In 1978, another military man, General Romeo Lucas García, was elected for the next constitutional term of office; he was backed by a coalition which had led to the formation of the Frente Amplio. Participating in the Frente Amplio were the Institutional Democratic Party and a sector of the Revolutionary Party with social democratic leanings. That sector added Dr. Francisco Villagrán Kramer to the ticket, as Vice President. Two years later, Dr. Villagrán Kramer resigned and went into voluntary exile. The constitutional term of office of the current Government ends in 1982.
The resignation of the Vice President, addressed to the Congress of the Republic on September 1, 1980, points up the repeated violations of human rights and the Guatemalan Government's responsibility for those violations. The resignation was as follows:
To the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala:
I, FRANCISCO VILLAGRÁN KRAMER, Vice President of the Republic, with my abiding respect,
DO HEREBY STATE THE FOLLOWING:
A significant part of the people of Guatemala have confidence in the joint program which the Frente Amplio presented in 1978 and by virtue of which I was elected Vice President of the Republic.
Since I came to office, I have done my best to put that program into practice and to strengthen a central-leftists government that would enable the country, after more than twelve years of political violence, to restore peace and modernize its socio-economic and cultural system.
The absence of any ideological interplay and the predominance of the more radical rights sectors have obstructed and continue to obstruct a settlement of differences among Guatemalans and execution of the approved program.
- The political latitude necessary for healthy democratic development was cut short by the murder of political leaders from the center and from the left;
- The development of the union movement and collective bargaining between capital and labor have been seriously harmed by the systematic persecution and killing of union leaders and a considerable number of businessmen;
- Social integration as a means for social development has been adversely affected by the persistent harassment of the country's indigenous groups;
- Protection of the country's economic assets has suffered serious setbacks due to the lack of a comprehensive and nationalistic outlook, and
- Culture and its highest institutions, among them the University of San Carlos, have been under siege, which has affected future cultural and technological development. As a consequence, the end sought is that culture should reflect the regime's ideological leanings.
The crisis that has developed and that now has the country in its grip is a serious one. The new generations are expressing their dissent and their standards appear on the horizon. The country is demanding major national decisions that take into account those young people and their hopes, the free interplay of ideologies and respect to the fundamental rights of the citizen. It is calling for an end to barricades and trenches, since history has shown that this is the wrong course of action.
Given the differences with the President of the Republic and the absence of institutional forums to discuss the serious national problems affecting the country, my resignation from the Office of the Vice President is imperative. Hence, I respectfully tender to this Congress my irrevocable resignation from the Office of the Vice President.
As an old soldier in the cause of democracy and social justice I shall carry with me the experience I have acquired, undoubtedly useful to the youth who aspire to a more just and humane country.
I respectfully request that the Congress of the Republic, in accordance with the Constitution, accept my resignation.
(s) Francisco Villagrán Kramer
Vice President of the
September 1, 1980.
C. The political rights in the Constitution
1. The 1965 Constitution establishes the political rights of the citizen, such as the right to participate in government and in the conduct of public affairs, the right to vote, the electoral system, the organization and operation of the political parties. These rights are included in the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Guatemala is a State Party.
2. With respect to citizenship, the Constitution states that all Guatemalans, men and women over 18 year of age, are citizens. The following rights and duties are established as inherent in citizenship:
1. To vote and be elected to office.
2. To hold public office.
3. To safeguard the freedom and effectiveness of suffrage and the integrity of election procedures.
4. To defend the principle of rotation and nonreelection to the Office of the Presidency of the Republic, in any manner that it may be exercised, as an invariable rule in the political system of the state.
5. To register with the Electoral Register.
6. To vote, except when this is optional.2
3. The Constitution provides that “suffrage is universal and secret, compulsory for votes who can read and write and optional for illiterate voters.” All Guatemalans who enjoy the rights of citizenship and are inscribed in the Electoral Register are voters. It is provided that those who prevent or try to prevent citizens from registering to vote or from exercising their right of suffrage, those who compel or try to compel persons to vote in a certain way, and those who by any coercive means compel or try to compel illiterates to go to the polls shall be punished in accordance with criminal law.3
4. The Constitution provides that the state shall guarantee the free establishment and functioning of political parties that have democratic standards and principles; it also prescribes the establishment or functioning of parties or entities that advocate the communist ideology of if their doctrinal leanings, modus operandi or international connections threaten the sovereignty of the state or the foundations of Guatemala's democratic system.4
Legally registered political parties are institutions of public law and the respective law determines how they shall be organized and operate.5
5. The Constitution establishes the institutional bases of the electoral authorities, which are governed by the corresponding law. In that regard, the Constitution establishes the Electoral Register and the Electoral Council, which have independent functions and jurisdiction throughout the Republic.6
D. The electoral and party system
1. The electoral and party system is based on the provisions of the Constitution and is governed under the Electoral and Political Party Law enacted through Decree-Law Nº 387, of October 23, 1965. This law was enacted so as to adapt electoral standards to the corresponding provisions of the Constitution, mentioned earlier in this chapter.
2. As for the electoral system, the law confirms the status and requirements of citizens as set forth in the Constitution. It also confirms that the vote is a duty inherent in citizenship, that it is personal and nontransferable. “It is universal and secret, compulsory for citizens that can read and write and optional for illiterate citizens. Voters enjoy absolute freedom in casting their vote and no one shall compel them to vote for any specific person or platform.”
Under Guatemala's Electoral Law, political claims must be resolved within a period of eight days and if not resolved within that period, the claim shall be denied and the interested party may resort to the legal remedies. Citizens in active service in the army or in police forces may not exercise the right to vote. The law also prohibits officials of the judiciary from serving as officers in political parties; religious associations and groups are prohibited from participating in party politics, as are military chaplains.
3. Among the functions of the Electoral Register under the electoral system in Guatemala are the following: to register citizens to vote and to note all those circumstances that have some bearing upon their political rights; to register candidates, and such other obligations as the law may assign to it.
To ensure proper exercise of the right to vote, the Electoral Register “shall be permanently empowered to use all means to improve election proceedings and enhance the qualifications of the voters, particularly those who are unable to read and write. Following studies on demographic and sociological conditions, mechanical voting procedures may be established either in whole or in part, as the results of those studies dictate.7
The Electoral Register and the Electoral Council are instituted and established as the law provides, and both institutions have autonomous functions and jurisdiction throughout the republic, in accordance with the provisions of that law. Other provisions of the law establish the following: the Electoral Register is a permanent administrative organ, headed by a Director appointed by the Executive for a period of four years; the Electoral Council is empowered to take cognizance of all acts and proceedings relating to electoral matter.8
The only remedies allowed with respect to decisions of the Electoral Register and Electoral Council are those of review and amparo before the Court of Appeals of the Capital. The remedy of review is admissible for reconsideration of a matter decided by the Register or the Council on subjects that fall within their respective purview. Amparo is admissible when the provision or decision appealed infringes upon electoral rights or electoral guarantees or affects the interest of political parties, or committees or associations provided for under the law.
4. The law also includes provisions on the following: the calling of elections, which is the responsibility of the chief of state or, when appropriate, the Congress of the Republic or the Permanent Commission, the electoral organization of the electoral system, which includes the powers and authority of the Electoral Register, of the Electoral Council, of the municipal electoral boards, and of the voting stations; the question of candidates, where it provides that only those political parties that are legally registered can nominate candidates for the office of president, vice president and deputy; the matter of campaign propaganda, wherein it states that such propaganda is free and is subject to no restriction other than restrictions against acts that offend morality or affect the right of property and public order; and the question of the list of voters, ballots, voting, vote tallying, election systems, announcement of elections, nullification, penalties and temporary and final results.
As for the election system, it is important to point out that there are three: absolute majority of votes, relative majority of votes, and minority representation. The absolute majority system is used only in the case of elections for the president and vice president. The relative majority system applies to the election of deputies and members of municipal bodies, provided that only one post is to be filled. The minority representation system applies to election of members of an associate body, when there are three or more posts to be filled.
5. As for political parties, Guatemalan law provides that political parties that have democratic standards and principles are free to form and function and that legally organized and registered political parties are institutions of public law. The law repeats the constitutional provision that prohibits the formation or functioning of parties or entities that advocate the communist ideology or whose doctrinal leanings, modus operandi or international ties threaten the sovereignty of the state or the foundations of the Guatemalan democratic system.
The legal system provides that any group of citizens may work to form a political party, provided the legal requirements are met. It also provides that a group of citizens that wishes to organize a political party must appear before the Electoral Register in the person of a responsible official, and establish that it is an association created for political purposes. The Public Ministry shall be allowed to intervene in each case.
In order to form a political party, its organizers must meet the following requirements: they must have a minimum of fifty thousand members, all of whom must have full citizenship rights, and be registered on the electoral rolls; not less than 20% of the members must be able to read and write; the organization must have been constituted in a public act of constitution, and the party Statutes must have been drawn up according to the terms established by law.
Political parties are entitled to form alliances for electoral purposes and must record their agreement to do so in the proper register; they are also entitled to federate themselves or to merge, provided they meet the requirements established in the statutes or in the act of constitution.
E. The Actual Political Rights Situation
1. It will be appreciated that as it refers to the electoral system and political parties, Guatemala's legal system, is broad in some respects, but in others, it conditions and limits political pluralism. This runs counter to the Constitution of the Republic when it defines the Guatemalan system of governments as republican and a representative democracy.9
In the present situation in Guatemala, political rights operate in conditions that are totally different from the principles upheld in the Constitution. While it is true that there has been no change in the legal system in recent years and that the Constitution has a formal continuity, by means of elections every four years, this theoretical framework lacks any empirical basis in reality, inasmuch as in practice, political rights have been seriously violated on a continuing basis.
2. Guatemalan political life has been dominated by the Army, to such an extent that for the last three constitutional terms, the country's Presidents have been military officers, and in the two most recent terms, all the presidential candidates were high-ranking army officers.10
Political parties of varying stripes have existed and operated in Guatemala, and in that context, the National Liberation Party has had an influence because of its alliance with the military sectors. This party, which is considered to be ultra right-wing, was founded by Carlos Castillo Armas as a result of the takeover of power with the 1954 invasion.11
In recent years, some political organizations have split off and subdivided, and with rare exceptions, have not proposed any consistent ideological platform to enlighten the various sectors of Guatemalan society.
3. The permanent climate of violence in Guatemala, which is made worse by the acts of paramilitary groups, has had a very profound effect on the observance of political rights. Recognized leaders who did not condone the actions of the Government have been assassinated, such as Dr. Alberto Fuentes Mohr, leader of the Social Democratic Party, and Manuel Colom Argueta, leader of the Frente Unido de la Revolución, as stated in the Chapter on the Right to Life in the present report. Other political leaders have been persecuted or kidnapped, and many have been forced to go into exile, including the Vice President of the current government, as already noted.12
In circumstances such as these, the opposition parties cannot act independently, and cannot have sufficient guarantees to enable them to participate freely in the country's decisions. At present in Guatemala, those circumstances add up to a repressive order of arbitrariness and injustice, in which the authorities, by commission or omission, become those responsible for or accomplices in violations of political rights, and are given to the practice of state terrorism, with a manifest deterioration in the free existence and operation of political organizations.
4. These conditions have also led to a meager turnout of the electorate when elections are held in Guatemala. In recent elections, there has been a progressive and considerable increase in the number of people staying away from the polls, which shows that citizens do not believe in the political process and do not have confidence in the electoral system or in the political organizations in their practical operations.13
1 The American Convention on Human Rights establishes the following in Article 23 concerning Political Rights: 1. Every citizen shall enjoy the following rights and opportunities: a. to take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; b. to vote and to be elected in genuine periodic elections, which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and by secret ballot that guarantees the free expression of the will of the voters, and c. to have access, under general conditions of equality, to the public service of his country.
2 The law may regulate the exercise of the rights and opportunities referred to in the preceding paragraph only on the basis of age, nationality, residence, language, education, civil and mental capacity, or sentencing by a competent court in criminal proceedings.
2 Articles 13 and 14 of the Constitution. Article 143 of the Constitution states the following: “Exercise of the public power is subject to the provisions contained in the Constitution and the Laws.” Article 144 states the following: “The rule of law extends to all persons found within the territory of the republic, with the exception of the limitations established in the Constitution, in international treaties, and by provisions of general international law accepted by Guatemala.” Article 145 states the following: “The public officials are the depositories of the authority, legally responsible for their official conduct; they are subject to and are never above the law. Public officials and employees are in the service of the state and not of any political party. The public function cannot be delegated except in those cases specified by law, and it may not be exercised without first taking an oath of loyalty to the Constitution.”
3 Articles 19, 20, and 21 of the Constitution. Article 22 establishes the penalties for individuals prohibited from participating in active politics and officials of the state who violate freedom of suffrage. Article 23 provides that from the moment a candidate is nominated, he enjoys personal immunity, except in those cases provided for in the law. Article 24 states that numerically determinable minorities shall be entitled to representation in the associate bodies chosen by popular election. Article 25 provides that the law shall prescribe rules for the exercise of suffrage “in order to guarantee its freedom and integrity, so that it may constitute a true expression of the popular will.”
4 Article 27 of the Constitution.
5 Article 29 of the Constitution. The matter of political parties is governed under Chapter V of Title I of the Constitution, on the Nation, the State and Its Government.
6 The matter of electoral authorities is governed under the Constitution in Chapter VI of Title I, cited earlier.
7 Article 14 of the Electoral and Political Party Law.
8 Articles 34 and 37 of the law.
9 In the report on human rights in Guatemala prepared by Dr. Rafael Cuevas del Cid, former Rector of the University of San Carlos in Guatemala and President of the Commission for the Defense of Human Rights in Central America, published in 1979, he says: “The right not to be discriminated against on account of political opinions is also nonexistent. Apart from limitations established in the Constitution itself and in the Penal Laws, the existence of restrictive laws makes it extremely complicated to set up political parties—provided, of course, it is not a question of groups having a 'communist ideology;' we note, however, that that description can fit all those who in one way or another show any discontent or disagreement with the current regime or with the unjust social system.”
10 A document submitted to the Commission in March 1981 by the Democratic Front against Repression, which had been created in March 1979 by 143 organizations, states as follows: “The Guatemalan electoral system is one of the most corrupt and anti-democratic in Latin America, because although there are elections, there is a single elector: the Army. It designates the candidates and the political parties, which are completely under its tutelage, and which will unconditionally defend the rights of a privileged minority such as they themselves to form a government. Although earlier, there was a civilian regime (in 1976), from that time on, being an army general has been a prerequisite for being a candidate for the presidency. With the parties being totally controlled and with candidates imposed on them, citizens have no practical possibility of participating in politics. It is laughable, but in Guatemala, the elections are “won” by the losing candidate, because when the elections are over, the army always chooses the person that will best guarantee its interests, even though all the candidates are military men. The most blatant electoral frauds have been practiced in order to ensure final imposition of the presidents. The people look on the electoral process as a circus, and have stopped believing in the elections, in the traditional political parties or in the candidates. The turnout at the elections is minimal. In 1978, only 25% of registered voters went to the polls, while in the 1980 municipal elections, more than 90% of eligible voters withheld their vote. Most of the political parties, except for the Frente Unido de la Revolución (FUR) and the Democratic Socialist Party, are for eminently electoral purposes, and orchestrate with their demands the designs of the central powers. The FUR was registered as a political party after eighteen years of annoying requirements and dilatory tactics, and when it was finally able to be registered, its top leader, Manuel Colom Argueta, was assassinated. In recent years, he had fought tenaciously for legal recognition of his party. Colom Argueta's assassination was carried out in an operation directed from a helicopter by the Minister of Defense himself, General David Cancinos. The top leader of the Democratic Party, Dr. Alberto Fuentes Mohr, suffered the same fate, the day after he had submitted his application to register on the electoral roll. He was assassinated. Hundreds of active members, operatives and many leaders of both groups, as well as of the Christian Democratic Party, have been assassinated. Under these conditions, the right to vote has no validity and anyone who demands that it be pure will be assassinated, as happened to many citizens, including the journalist Mario Monterroso Armas, in 1974. The elections are held in Guatemala when everything has already been decided: the Presidency, the deputies, the mayors, offices in the judicial system, etc.”
11 The Report of the Mission of the International Commission of Jurists that visited Guatemala in June 1979, which has already been cited above, states as follows: “Ever since 1954, the main legal political party has been the National Liberation Movement (MLN). Two legal parties grew out of the MLN: the PNR (Revolutionary Nationalist Party) and the FUN (National Unification Front). The CAO (Central Aranista Organizada) is the party of former President Arana. The Frente Unido de la Revolución (FUR) the Social Democratic party, gained legal recognition shortly after the assassination of Manuel Colom Argueta, its top leader. The Partido Institucional Democrático (PID) and the Revolutionary Party (PR)—to which Méndez Montenegro, president from 1966 to 1980 belonged—supported the Broad Front which gave General Lucas the Victory in the 1978 elections. Alberto Fuentes Mohr, leader of the Social Democratic Paty and candidate for the Vice Presidency in the 1974 elections, was assassinated in January 1979. The President of the Christian Democratic Party, who in turn is Secretary General of the World Christian Democratic Union, has virtually been a prisoner in his own house since October 1978, when he was the victim of an attack.”
12 The Report of the National Union of Attorneys, headquartered in New York, and of the Legal Alliance of La Raza, which reports the views of a joint delegation from the two organizations that visited Guatemala in March 1979, and which was sent to the Commission by them, states as follows: “Many of the opposition political leaders who have challenged the government have been assassinated; this is part of the recent campaign of violence. On January 25, 1979, Dr. Alberto Fuentes Mohr, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and leader of the Social Democratic Party (PSD) was assassinated near the American Embassy. The two new leaders of the PSD were in turn assassinated on June 12, 1979. On March 22, 1979, Manuel Colom Argueta, former mayor of Guatemala City, and a leader of the Frente Unido de la Revolución (FUR), an opposition party, was machine-gunned to death in broad daylight, along with his two bodyguards. Colom Argueta was assassinated only two days after the Government had officially recognized the FUR as a legitimate party with the right to take part in the upcoming presidential elections. The recognition of the FUR gave rise to grand official pronouncements about a new democratic opening. By eliminating Colom Argueta only two days afterwards, the government ended a serious electoral threat to its continuing domination. Colom Argueta's funeral procession offered evidence of his enormous popularity and the people's repudiation of the government. More than 200,000 people marched, thus defying a government ban on demonstrations. His sister, Luisa Colom de Herarte and his brother, Guillermo Colom Argueta, publicly declared that the 'G-2', the Police Intelligence Division, had assassinated their brother. As a result of threats against his own life, Guillermo Colom Argueta sought refuge in the Venezuelan Embassy and had to leave Guatemala. Criminal charges were brought against Luisa, for 'libel and slander against the integrity and security of the State', charges which bring a twenty-year prison sentence. The car belonging to Marina Coronado de Noriega, a member of the FUR, was bombarded. The reign of terror in Guatemala has found its victims every where in the population. As the International Commission of Jurists said recently, 'Although the most notorious assassinations have been of the leaders of various political organizations and political figures, the peasants and the workers are the class that suffers most.' According to an announcement published by the Christian Democratic Party on June 26, 1979 in El Gráfico, a Guatemalan newspaper,, this violence is caused by an effort to repress the popular will and will inevitably lead to civil war. The announcement ends on a note of hope, declaring that if all men and women of goodwill dedicate themselves to working to restore democracy to Guatemala, there is still time to avoid the consequences.” On May 29, 1980, the then Vice President of the Republic, Dr. Francisco Villagrán Kramer, wrote to the Christian Democratic Party in reference to the assassination and kidnapping of a number of members of the party, in the following terms: “I should like to express my serious concern and solidarity with the Guatemalan Christian Democratic Party over the acts of violence affecting both it and its members, including the assassinations of former Deputy Hamilton Noriega and the former candidate for Deputy, Sisimit Par. It is reported in the press today that Professor Víctor Abel Ramírez Bravo, a former candidate for Deputy of that party for the Department of San Marcos, has been kidnapped. These events are in addition to those denounced in the press by the Guatemalan Christian Democratic Party itself. To the extent that the Guatemalan Christian Democratic Party feels that the Office of the Vice President of the Republic could be of use in any legal action, I would be grateful if you would so inform me, since as a citizen and as a public official, it is my duty to contribute my assistance. Regardless of any situation of a family nature that affect me also, I cannot fail to consider the pain and the concern of others.”
13 Referring to the political situation in Guatemala in recent years and to the low voter turnout, the report cited above by Dr. Cuevas del Cid states as follows: “The Guatemalan scene after 1954 is fairly well known. The progress made between 1944 and 1954 in all areas, and of course, as regards human rights, particularly economic, social and cultural rights, is being brutally truncated. In different guises, government succeeds government, but their common denominator is to serve the dominant classes. However, despite this common denominator, Guatemala's more recent history shows that repression has been given a new twist. It is difficult to pin down the exact date when these changes began, although perhaps it may be fixed approximately during the government of General Enrique Peralta Azurdia (1963-1966). Under this de facto government, the army came to govern 'as an institution', under the command of its chief, who had overturned President Miguel Ydígoras Fuentes, whom he had served as Minister of Defense. Twenty-eight workers and peasant leaders and scholars of democratic thought died. That was the first indication of the irrationality and brutality that the repression of following years would come to. However, it was particularly after 1966, under the government of Julio César Méndez Montenegro, an attorney and university professor, that repression by the state and paramilitary groups reaches its highest levels of sadism, cruelty and irrationality. From the angle of the political structure, it was also after 1966 that a particular 'model' of government was established in Guatemala; mutatis mutandi, it has been repeating itself every four years. This 'model' appears with the outward form—although it is not very well preserved—of 'representative democracy'. It presupposes therefore, the holding of elections every four years, in order to participate in the elections, the official parties (and those appearing as 'opposition' parties that are legally recognized) choose a candidate taken, without fail, from the highest ranks of the military; popular participation in elections is increasingly less, and is more skeptical; in the midst of mutual accusations of fraud, the military officer who is officially said to have obtained a relative majority of votes is declared elected (generally by Congress). In the last election, which has held in March 1978, about 70% of the registered voters did not go to the polls. The number of void or blank ballots was so great that the Government failed to give precise figures. All this means that those who were said to have obtained a relative majority must have obtained the vote of a tiny part of the registered electorate.”