GUATEMALA CITY — A gay Guatemalan congressman-elect on Saturday sharply criticized the “safe third country” agreement his government signed with the White House that requires migrants who pass through Guatemala on their way to the U.S. to first seek asylum in the country.
“[Guatemala] does not have the conditions to receive migrants in a dignified way,” Aldo Dávila told the Washington Blade during an interview in Guatemala City.
Dávila spoke with the Blade a couple of hours before he and hundreds of others gathered outside the presidential palace to protest the agreement and President Jimmy Morales’ government’s decision to sign it on Friday.
Dávila — a member of the Winaq Movement, a leftist party founded by Rigoberta Menchú, an indigenous human rights activist who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992 — wore a black t-shirt with the hashtag, “I do not have a president.” Dávila said Guatemala only has eight officials who can process asylum claims.
“It is completely absurd,” he said. “We have to talk about people’s dignity, people’s human rights and we do not have the capacity to receive (them) in a dignified way.”
Rampant poverty and violence in Guatemala and neighboring Honduras and El Salvador has prompted tens of thousands of migrants to travel to Mexico and the U.S. over the last two years. Activists in the three countries with whom the Blade has spoken say discrimination and a lack of economic opportunities based on sexual orientation and gender identity are among the additional factors that have compelled LGBTI Guatemalans, Hondurans and Salvadorans to flee their countries.
“People are fleeing Guatemala because of insecurity, because of (a lack of justice), because of a lack of work and education and health care,” Dávila told the Blade. “What, therefore, are we going to offer migrants who are fleeing their countries?”
Dávila and other protesters who gathered outside the presidential palace criticized the Trump administration’s hardline immigration policies, which includes a July 15 announcement that it will end asylum protections for most migrants who arrive at the U.S.-Mexico border. One woman who took part in the Guatemala City protest held a handwritten sign that read, “Guatemala is not a concentration camp.”
“The important thing is that Guatemalans are aware of what this means, that we are not prepared and that we are allowing ourselves to have a migrant concentration camp,” Dávila told the Blade, referring to the “safe third country” agreement. “There is a lot of outrage … society in general is outraged.”
Dávila, who is the executive director of Asociación Gente Positiva, a Guatemala City-based HIV/AIDS service organization, spoke with the Blade less than two months after he became the first openly gay man elected to Guatemala’s congress. Dávila, who received 22,827 votes, will take office on Jan. 14.
He said it is important for LGBTI Guatemalans to be represented in their country’s congress. Dávila also told the Blade he plans to promote a transgender rights law and other LGBTI-specific issues once he takes office.
“I am sure that no other lawmaker would push (these issues,)” he said. “Therefore I think it is important that we are represented in the Congress.”
Congresswoman Sandra Morán, a member of Convergencia, a left-leaning political movement that advocates on behalf of indigenous Guatemalans and other underrepresented groups in the country, in 2015 became the first openly LGBTI person elected to Guatemala’s congress. Dávila described her as an “excellent example” who has done “enormous work.”
“I consider myself a leader … but not a pioneer,” said Dávila. “She [Morán] paved the way. She is a pioneer.”