My Rights are Your Rights: How one transgender woman in Guatemala is making change

Debby Linares, during her presentation at NDI, with fellow human rights activist, Fernando Us Alvarez.

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In the first week of December 2017, I had the chance to meet Debby Linares, a transgender woman and human rights activist from Guatemala, who soon became an inspiration to me on a personal level. Debby, who has been a human rights activist for the past 16 years, advocates for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) rights at the municipal and state level in Guatemala.

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Being Bold for Change in Guatemala

Guatemalan campaign 2015, TODOS political party candidates for Congress on the National List

In 2013, while I was working in partnership with NDI Guatemala, I became interested in encouraging more women to get involved in politics, so I applied for the Andi Parhamovich Fellowship. I proposed a project focused on increasing women's participation as decision-makers in Guatemala - a huge challenge for me considering my background was in the sciences and I was new to politics.

Through my APF project I worked on a training program to prepare female candidates, who defied gender stereotypes, for the legislative elections in 2015, but we never expected a year like that.

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Youth are driving change in Latin America

Latin Americans discussing youth political participation

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Twelve young Latin American political leaders and activists recently gathered in Guatemala for an NDI-led workshop on youth political participation. Conversations ranged from what motivates youth to get involved in politics, to how sociocultural norms about youth affect their work, and what tactics youth have used to elevate their political voices in their home countries of El Salvador, Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua and Mexico. Amidst widespread myths about youth political apathy, these diverse young activists represent a generation that is motivated to build more inclusive, democratic societies.

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Guatemala’s Progress Toward Reform Still Faces Many Challenges

Plenary session of the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala

In late October, I joined a staff delegation of the House Democracy Partnership (HDP) in its assessment mission to explore a potential partnership between the U.S. Congress and the Congress of Guatemala, a unicameral body made up of 158 deputies elected for four-year terms. Having spent a good deal of time working to end the Central American wars in the 1980s as a congressional staffer in the U.S. House of Representatives, it was my first trip to the region in nearly three decades. I returned to the U.S. hopeful and cautiously optimistic that Guatemala may be turning a corner in its democratic development while still working to overcome the legacy of the brutal civil war that resulted in hundreds of thousands of victims from 1960-1996.

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Promoting Democratic Governance of the Security Sector

Members of the Defense and Security Commission of Burkina Faso's National Assembly meet members of the armed forces during an informational visit to a military base in Kaya.

Violence and crime pose serious threats to citizen security. A lack of response to these threats from authorities erodes public trust in government institutions and weakens prospects for stable democracy. Maintaining the peace and ensuring the security of citizens is necessary for a democracy to develop and endure. Likewise, democratic institutions, such as parliaments, media and civil society, help guarantee a focus on citizen interest and public good, especially related to civilian oversight of the security sector. Threats to citizen security are particularly notable in West Africa’s Sahel region and Central America’s Northern Triangle, areas where NDI works to bridge the gap between citizens’ security needs and the state’s ability to meet them.

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From Election Observation to Government Oversight: What’s Next for Guatemala?

A young Guatemalan woman participates in an activity organized by civil society to reflect on the political crisis and future priorities. Credit: Pamela Saravia

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As this blog series has highlighted, the 2015 Guatemalan elections were unique in many regards. Citizen protests resulted in the resignation and arrest of the president and vice president on corruption charges. Voter turnout was the highest since the return to democracy in Guatemala. The presumptive winner, the runner-up in elections four years earlier who was leading in the polls, failed to make it to the second round. And electoral violence was lower than expected and lower than during recent electoral processes. The question then becomes, what’s next for Guatemala?

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Indigenous Guatemalans Call for Meaningful Representation

Anixh Ana María Pablo Tercero prepares to present election observation results at a press conference.

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Large numbers of Guatemalan citizens are excluded from political life. Indigenous communities are among the most marginalized, as they face both institutional and cultural barriers in the country’s political system. Since the 2006 electoral reforms and during the subsequent three elections, Guatemala has seen important steps forward in terms of increased political participation; however, challenges remain in translating participation into meaningful representation.

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Observation Network Unites to Improve the Transparency of Guatemalan Elections

Members of the DEMOS network. Left to right: Jorge Barriento, Aracsala Chang, Orlando Cun, Yesica Hernandez, Fredy Sitavi, Jose Cuxil, and Ronald Baldomiro. 

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For Yesica Hernández, an observer from Quetzaltenango, playing an active role in political life in her country is a civic obligation. At just 24 years old, Yesica has worked with the Central American Institute for the Study of Social Democracy (DEMOS) for nearly five years and already observed two elections. She sees election observation as critical to involving citizens, especially youth, in politics and holding political parties and politicians accountable to the public.

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The Importance of Mayan Languages in Constructing a Democratic Society in Guatemala

Mayan youth practice communication skills. Photo credit: DEMOS

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Equal participation of citizens in politics is essential for strengthening democracy. Citizen participation must be inclusive, representative and intercultural. One of the foundations of democracy is respect for human rights, which includes recognition of individual and collective rights of indigenous peoples. And one of these collective rights lies precisely in the use of indigenous languages. This is especially true in Guatemala, where indigenous peoples represent a large and diverse, but frequently marginalized, population.

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Election Observers Promote Tolerance and Transparency in Guatemalan Communities

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Louis Enrique Borrayo Hernandez is a young Guatemalan man who learned about the election observation through Association Ixim, the local organization that supported Citizen Action’s (AC) observation in the department of Sacatepéquez, just outside of Guatemala’s capital. We recently spoke with Louis, as well as his colleague Theylor (who preferred that we not use his full name), about why they decided to join the AC network as long-term observers. Their answer was clear: “we wanted to make a difference in our community and our country,” they both agreed.

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