In Guatemala, 2020 was marked by the change of government and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. Since taking office, Alejandro Giammattei’s government has been characterized by an authoritarian drift which has exacerbated the limitations on freedoms and the closure of spaces for democratic participation. In his first year in office, he declared seven states of prevention or siege, several of them before the outbreak of the pandemic. These affected 22 municipalities, continuing the trend of territorial control through militarization which had been initiated by previous governments.

One of the most widely criticized decisions, prompting widespread expressions of concern from Guatemalan society and the international community, has been the closure of key institutions created in the aftermath of the signing of the Peace Accords (1996), whose objective was to address the structural causes of the internal armed conflict (IAC): the Presidential Commission for the Coordination of Executive Policy on Human Rights (COPREDEH), the Secretariat for Peace (SEPAZ), which includes the National Reparations Program (PNR), and the Secretariat for Agrarian Affairs (SAA). In their place, the Presidential Commission for Peace and Human Rights (COPADEH) was created, which will assume the tasks of COPREDEH and SEPAZ, while the tasks of the SAA and the PNR will be distributed between the Ministry of Social Development and the Secretariat of Planning and Programming of the Presidency (SEGEPLAN).

Organizations representing campesinos, indigenous peoples and victims' and survivors' of the internal armed conflict are particularly concerned about this development. They state that the closure of these institutions leaves a great void, as there is no one left to assume their mission: some 2,000 agrarian conflicts remain unresolved; thousands of victims and survivors of the IAC have not received the necessary recognition; judgments from the Inter-American Court of Human Rights against the Guatemalan State have not been fulfilled; the development and implementation of a public policy for the protection of human rights defenders, which was in the hands of COPREDEH since 2012, is still pending.

The adoption of measures to curb the spread of SARS-COVID19, the first case of which was detected in Guatemala in March, had a particularly harsh impact on the campesino and indigenous population. Comprising the majority of the population in Guatemala, these groups experience the highest rates of inequality, poverty and denial of basic rights as a result of the structural problems facing the country. In addition, the programs promoted by the Government to address the economic impacts of these measures have generally excluding rural areas, which are mostly indigenous. The inefficiency in the execution of state programs to support families in greatest need within the context of the pandemic led to protests which began at the end of August, and sought to highlight the crisis the country is going through.

Similarly, the State of Calamity decreed at the beginning of the pandemic included the shutdown of public transport and the prohibition of free assembly and free movement during curfew hours. This prevented communities from exercising their right to resist extractives projects which have been imposed without consultation or which have been rejected, leading to an exacerbation of these conflicts. At the same time, the restrictions have increased the isolation of the communities, because neither the local organizations, nor the international organizations who accompany them, have been able to maintain a presence in these territories.

In early November 2020, Hurricane Eta and Storm Iota hit the northern region of Guatemala hard, leaving 2.4 million people affected, 270,000 of whom lost their homes. Most of these communities, who were already living in conditions of poverty and extreme poverty, are campesinos who live from their crops, which have been destroyed. Furthermore, communities fear the loss of native seeds and that arable land has been rendered unusable in the short and medium term. Faced with this situation, and the scarce and delayed State response, the peasant organizations have warned of the likely onset of an extremely serious humanitarian crisis.