BB on GOOD: The “Twitter Revolution” - Social media meets social unrest in Guatemala


I've been traveling in Guatemala for the past few weeks, and following (and blogging) the ongoing political crisis here. BB editors are contributing periodic essays to GOOD Magazine, and the so-called "Twitter Revolution" taking place in Guatemala is the subject of my latest contribution, from the road:

Despite widespread fears the protests would turn violent, and even with government-organized pro-Colom demonstrations just blocks away (the administration is said to have spent millions of quetzales in public funds to organize the events, pay poor participants, and bus them in by the thousands from the country’s interior), street activity has been peaceful so far.

But backlash to online activity has been intense, notably from the sector of Guatemala’s government that controls the country’s financial system. One Twitter user was arrested, jailed, and faces up to 10 years in prison for having posted a single 96-character tweet about the bank at the center of the corruption scandal. Guatemala’s Supervisor of Banks, Édgar Barquín, has proposed sweeping controls on internet use, including a requirement that anyone who wants to log on in an internet café must first register their national ID card (cedula) at the front desk.

In keeping with the hall-of-mirrors, telenovela-like surreality that marks Guatemalan politics, Colom’s chief political rival–former Army general Otto Perez Molina–recently denounced a purported plot to assassinate him . Colom’s party dismissed those claims as having been fabricated “for show.” On Twitter, some countered that the lack of institutional ability to investigate any crime is the root of the current crisis, so all claims of threats should be treated with equal respect and due process.

“All we are saying is give the rule of law a chance,” one “tuitero” direct-messaged me.

“Who are we supposed to trust when all of the institutions of the state are compromised?,” tweeted another.

That overwhelming lack of faith in any state institutions is what many outside of Guatemala see as most concerning.

A recent article in The Economist suggests Guatemala is now well on its way to becoming a “failed state.” Some op-ed writers in Guatemalan papers responded defensively. But the longer Rosenberg’s symbolically important case goes unsolved, the longer corruption is perceived as unchecked, the longer the already horrific violent crime stats in Guatemala continue to climb, and the greater the risk of total collapse.

GOOD: The “Twitter Revolution” - Social media meets social unrest in Guatemala

(Image by Guatemalan photographer and blogger Surizar)