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Thelma Cabrera

Guatemala: Human rights violations and obstacles to candidacies

08 March, 2023

At the beginning of March 2023, the Constitutional Court (CC) of Guatemala rejected a new legal appeal with which Thelma Cabrera and Jordán Rodas Andrade sought to be registered as candidates for the Presidency and Vice Presidency, respectively, by the People’s Liberation Movement (MLP) for the general elections on June 25, so the participation of this political group is uncertain.

Cabrera is a renowned environmentalist and human rights defender belonging to the Maya Mam people, who already ran for president in 2019 having placed in fourth place with a historic vote. Rodas served as human rights prosecutor from 2017 until 2022, when he was forced to flee Guatemala for his anti-corruption work.

Last January, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) rejected the registration of the MLP binomial on the grounds that Rodas cannot participate because he has an alleged criminal complaint in force against him. In the same way, the CSJ also rejected a request by the MLP to register its binomial.

While Cabrera and Rodas have been prevented from participating in this year’s elections based on alleged criminal complaints against the vice presidential candidate, the same CC has confirmed the candidacy of Zury Ríos, daughter of the late former military dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, who came to power after a coup d’état in 1982, despite the fact that the Political Constitution of Guatemala prohibits people involved in coups d’état or their relatives from running for the office of president and vice president.

Although Cabrera and Rodas still have legal actions within the country to reverse the impediment to their applications and that the issue is also being considered by the Inter-American Human Rights Commission based in Washington DC, the truth is that this situation occurs within the framework of a serious human rights situation in the country that affects, among others, the country’s Indigenous Peoples.

Last January, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights presented his report on the Guatemalan reality in which he paints a highly worrying picture[1]. It affirms that Guatemala has continued to face systemic and structural challenges, for example, in relation to inequality and discrimination, the judicial system and impunity, the democratic space and the promotion and protection of human rights. Indigenous peoples (43.8% of the population) and people of African descent (0.2% of the population) continued to face multidimensional forms of discrimination and economic and social inequalities that affected the exercise of their rights

The same report indicates that the local office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, in 2022 alone, registered 79 allegations of attacks against human rights defenders (52 men and 14 women) and 13 indigenous communities and human rights defender organizations, which implies an increase of 54.34% compared to those registered in 2021.

In this context, the limitations on the political rights of figures widely recognized for their defense of human rights, Indigenous Peoples and the environment, such as Cabrera and Rodas, contribute to further complicating the political and social landscape of the country.


[1] UN, General Assembly, Human Rights Council 52nd session, Situation of human rights in Guatemala, Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, A/HRC/52/23, January 26, 2023