As stated in the First Report on the Situation of Human Rights in
Guatemala, political rights, to which every human being is entitled as a citizen
with the capacity to participate in the conduct of the country’s public
affairs were mainly based in principle on the Constitution of the Republic then
in force and were also regulated by the legal system’s body of laws in this
area, which stressed the free and democratic exercise of such rights.
It is also said, however, that in practice political rights were not
exercised to the fullest, and the situation was not keeping with the provisions
of the Constitution.
The failure to respect such rights reached its most critical level in
March 1982 when, as a result of the elections at that time, all of the
country’s political sectors agreed on rejecting and challenging the results of
the elections and accused the Government of General Romeo Lucas García of
electoral fraud. At that point the military revolt occurred that brought to
power General Efraín Ríos Montt, who accuses and holds responsible deposed
General Lucas García for violating the political rights of the people of
Guatemala by conducting “an electoral process plagued with manipulations.”2
Political Rights Under the Repealed Constitution
Regardless of whether the government of deposed General Romeo Lucas García
observed or did not observe the 1965 Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala,
it cannot be ignored that the Constitution, while less than perfect, gave
Guatemala the essential characteristics of a free, sovereign, independent and
organized country—pursuant to Article 1—to guarantee its people freedom,
security and justice within the legal framework of a republican, democratic and
The repealed Constitution established the division of public powers among
the legislative, executive and judicial branches, and stated that none of them
would be subordinate to the others. It established the basic political rights of
citizens, such as the right to participate in government and in the conduct of
public affairs, the right to vote, the electoral system, and the organization
and operation of political parties. These rights are included in the American
Convention on Human Rights, to which Guatemala is State party.
The Constitution states that all Guatemalan men and women over 18 years
of age are citizens.3
The following rights and duties are established as inherent in citizenship: to
elect and be elected; to apply for government posts; to safeguard the freedom
and effectiveness of suffrage and the integrity of election procedures; to
defend the principle of rotation and non-reelection 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; to be registered on the
electoral rolls; and to vote, except when this is optional.4
The Constitution provided that “suffrage is universal and secret,
compulsory for voters who can read and write and optional for illiterate
voters.” All Guatemalans who enjoyed the rights of citizenship and were
registered on the electoral rolls were voters. The Constitution provided that
anyone preventing or attempting to prevent citizens from registering to vote or
from exercising the right of suffrage or who compelled or tried to compel
persons to vote in a particular way; or who by any coercive means compelled or
tried to compel illiterates to go to polls should be punished in accordance with
The Constitution provided that “The State guarantees the free
establishment and operation of political parties that have democratic standards
and principles;” and “it prohibits the establishment or operation of parties
or entities that advocate the communist ideology or if their doctrinal leanings,
modus operandi or international connections threaten the sovereignty of
the State or the foundations of Guatemala’s democratic system.”6
Legally registered political parties are public law institutions, and the
law governing them determines how they should be organized.7
The Constitution established the institutional bases of the electoral
authorities, which are governed by the corresponding law. In that regard, the
Constitution established the electoral register and the electoral council, which
have independent functions and jurisdiction throughout the Republic.8
Political Rights Under the Government of General Efrain Ríos Montt
The coup d’etat of March 23, 1982, which deposed General Romeo
Lucas García, not only suspended political rights in Guatemala but also
abrogated the laws that recognized and regulated such rights and the political
institutions through which they are exercised, protected, oriented and
At the press conference on that date, General Ríos Montt announced:
“None of us are interested in participating in politics,” and stated that it
was a goal of the movement to hold elections, but he did not say when. At that
time, he also said: “Arms are for the military. So we need hardly say that
differences must be settled by vote, in the exercise of constitutional
While the constitutional, republican, democratic and representative
framework remained, Guatemala from that time on was under a de facto
government system whose characteristics were set by the Fundamental Statute of
Government, which provides, with regard to political rights, that the system
“has as a fundamental basis the establishment of a national juridical
structure guaranteeing that the country would move toward a regime of
constitutional legality that would lead to a political system and a democratic
government based on popular elections.”
The Fundamental Statute also suspended and abolished most political
rights, as can be seen in the text of Article 112, which reads as follows:
The political rights of Guatemalans are recognized, including those
projected through the political parties, but the parties are suspended by the
proclamation of the army of Guatemala to the people, dated March 23, 1982.
Later, a law will regulate the existence, activities and other functions
of political entities in accordance with Article 5 of these Statutes. Decree Law
382, of October 23, 1975, on the electoral law and political parties is
In its 1981 report, the Commission said that in the realities of
Guatemalan political affairs the army had had a predominant participation, to
such a degree that in the last three constitutional terms, the country’s
presidents had been military officers and that in the last two terms, all of the
presidential candidates were high ranking members of the army, including General
Efrain Ríos Montt himself.
By express mandate of Article 112 of the Fundamental Statute, political
party activities were suspended until the recent enactment of Decree Law 32-83,
but in addition, according to repeated reports to the Commission, most of the
parties were continuously harassed and persecuted during the year in which their
activities were proscribed.
On November 5, 1982, the Commission received a report that the
headquarters of the Christian Democratic Party had been raided and searched, an
action that coincided with the break-in and search of the residence of the
party’s Secretary General, Vinicio Cerezo.10
On August 14, twenty members of the National Liberation Movement (MLN)
were arrested and accused of taking part in a plot against the Government of
General Ríos Montt. Some of them were later released because no connection at
all was found between them and the acts attributed to them.
In September 1982, the political parties National Liberation Movement (MLN),
the Authentic National Center (CAN), the Guatemalan Christian Democracy (DCG)
and the National Renewal Party (PNR), organized a multi-party committee
following the establishment of the Council of State, in order to stand up
against alleged political rights violations, which, as reported to the
Commission, had been committed against those parties.
Regarding political rights violations attributed to the regime of the
deposed General Romeo Lucas García, the political parties criticized the
government of General Ríos Montt for among other things, not having tried and
punished the officials responsible for such irregularities after the coup
d’etat of March 23, 1982, in light of the fact that the alleged fraud of
March 1982, aside from having served to justify the overthrow of the General
Lucas García’s government, also resulted in the elimination of elections.
Legislative Measures of March 23, 1983
On March 23, 1983, on the first anniversary of his government, General
Efrain Ríos Montt enacted Decree Laws 30-83, 31-83, and 32-83, which
constituted the basic political laws that would govern what was termed the
return to the constitutional life of Guatemala.
On March 23 of that year, under the laws enacted by the government of
General Efrain Ríos Montt for opening up the political system, Decree Law 30-83
or the Organic Law of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal was issued. Under that
Decree, the recently created agency will have autonomous duties with
jurisdiction throughout the Republic, and will not be subject to any government
authority or agency.
Its duties were to ensure compliance with the laws and provisions
guaranteeing the citizens’ right of political organization and participation;
to be responsible solely for organizing the electoral process and ruling on the
validity of elections and adjudicating posts; and to make decisions on all the
various situations that occur in organizing and conducting an election.
The Electoral Supreme Court is composed of five magistrates elected by
the Supreme Court of Justice and has a president, a secretary general and an
election inspector. Its decisions and determinations must be signed by all of
the magistrates. Petitions for expansion or clarification and the remedy of amparo
may be filed against rulings of the Supreme Electoral Court.
A nominating commission draws up a written list of 20 candidates every 30
months for the posts of magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Court. The
Commission is composed of the Rector of the University of San Carlos de
Guatemala, a representative designated by the Assembly of Presidents of
Professional Colleges, and the Dean of the Political and Social Sciences Faculty
of each university in the country.
The electoral organs are: the Citizens Registry, the Departmental
Election Boards, the Municipal Election Boards and the Polling Boards. The
Departmental and Municipal Election Boards are temporary organs responsible for
preparing, conducting and monitoring elections in their respective departments
or municipalities. The board members are appointed by the Supreme Electoral
Court, and their seat is the departmental capital or the municipality concerned.
The Polling Boards are responsible for installing and closing the voting
tables, reviewing election materials and documents, identifying the electors,
receiving and counting the ballots, and computing the vote. The boards are
composed of a president, a secretary, an assistant and the election authorities
accredited to each board.
Decree Law 31-83 also established the Citizens Registry as a technical
agency of the Supreme Electoral Court. The agency’s duty is to supervise and
monitor the registry of citizens and the issuance of personal identity cards and
to prepare and keep current the voting list. The registry will be in charge of a
director general and a secretary.
The Lat of Political Organizations, Decree 32-83, has also been put into
force. Its main purpose is to set the legal framework to permit and promote
democratic, free and peaceful participation of citizens in national political
activities, through various forms of organization.
The law authorizes the establishment of political parties and other
organizations that are the legitimate expression of the citizens’ expectations
and ideological conceptions. It also regulates the formation and operation of
political organizations in general, and regulates and promotes the exercise of
internal democracy in them.
Under the law, the following are political organizations: political
parties, committees for forming political parties, civic election committees and
associations with political purposes. To be recognized and operate as a
political party requires 4,000 members who know how to read and write, are fully
entitled to their political rights and are registered in the citizen’s
Every political party must have the following organs: nationally, a
national assembly, a national executive committee and a national secretary; at
the department level, a departmental assembly, a departmental executive
committee, and a secretary general; at the municipal level, a municipal
assembly, a municipal executive committee and a secretary general. The law
establishes the terms of reference for these organs.
The Future of Democracy in Guatemala
According to his own statements, the government of General Efrain Ríos
Montt was temporary. The Fundamental Statute itself reiterates the provisional
and temporary character of this period of government, whose function is to lead
the country toward a regime of constitutional legality through popular elections
that will install a lasting pluralist democracy aimed at the common good.
To that end, President Ríos Montt reported on January 6 of this year
that his government would end the state of siege on March 23. He also reaffirmed
in those declarations his decision to hold political elections, in which all
political parties, including the communist party, would participate. It was also
stated that political opening of the government would begin with the
installation of a constituent assembly, in whose election all political parties
that meet minimum requirements, including the Socialist and Communist Parties,
would be able to take part.
In fact, on March 23, 1983, the Decree Law establishing the state of
siege was repealed, and three political laws were enacted on the Supreme
Electoral Court, the registry of citizens and the political organization
described in this chapter.
Enactment of these provisions immediately caused the political parties of
Guatemala, whose activities had been suspended, to declare themselves in
permanent session to study the contents of the laws and publish their views on
Subsequently, the Commission learned of General Oscar Humberto Mejía Víctores’
announcement that he had accelerated the political timetable established by
General Ríos Montt, which had fixed March 23, 1984 for convoking a Constituent
Assembly, July 1 of the same year for Assembly elections, installation of the
Assembly on September 15, 1984 and presidential elections to be held in 1986.
The new electoral calendar calls for Assembly elections in November 1983 which
would advance its installation as well as the presidential elections, which,
according to one official source would allow the formation of a government under
a democratically elected president by July 1, 1985.
Article 23 of the American Convention on Human Rights states as
follows regarding political rights: Article
23. Right to Participate in Government. 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.
Decree Law 2-82, first clause of the preamble.
Article 13 of the 1965 Constitution.
Article 14 of the 1965 Constitution.
Articles 19, 20, and 21 of the Constitution. Article 22 established
penalties for individuals prohibited from participating in active politics
and government officials who violated freedom of suffrage. Article 23
provided that from the time a candidate was nominated, he enjoyed personal
immunity, except where otherwise provided for in the law. Article 24 stated
that numerically determinable minorities should be entitled to
representation in the associate bodies chosen by popular election. Article
25 provided that the law should 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.”
Article 27 of the 1965 Constitution.
Article 29 of the 1965 Constitution.
The matter of electoral authorities is covered in Chapter VI of Title
I of the 1965 Constitution.
Associated Press. Guatemala, March 22, 1982.
10 The text of the report, which was submitted to the Government of Guatemala, states as follows: This afternoon, three Guatemalan army patrol cars carrying approximately 20 uniformed soldiers entered the house of Raquel Blandon de Cerezo. The house, which had been rented since February 1981, is located at 7th Street 20-53, Zone 11 of Colonia Mirador, Guatemala City. Witnesses said that nobody was home when the soldiers broke in. They added that to enter, the soldiers rammed the door of the house with one of their patrol cars. The soldiers then proceeded to demolish the house systematically, throwing books and other belongings on the floor and out the window. In addition, they stole the television set, phonograph records and other belongings of the occupants of the house, who are terrorized and are afraid to return to their home.