Guatemala Visible

Quick Look


Guatemala is taking important steps to end corruption and impunity inside its institutions. Organized crime and clandestine groups are responsible for the increase in crime rates, accumulating vast influence over the most important governmental institutions: the courts, the general prosecutor's office, the Government Accountability Office and the Office of the Public Defender. Last year Guatemalan society, united as never before, joined efforts to stamp out the influence of criminal networks deeply penetrated within government structures. The first step so was to elect honest and capable people to lead the institutions, and that could not happen without the active participation of informed citizens.

Inspired by Carlos Castresana, the Spanish prosecutor appointed by UN Secretary General Ban-ki Moon to head the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and following the model of Elección Visible in Colombia, a group of young entrepreneurs founded Guatemala Visible, an informative platform aggregating updates on the selection processes of the courts, the General Prosecutor, the Accountant General, the Public Defender and the Guatemalan Ombudsman.

If deals are made behind closed doors, it is impossible to assess those processes. That's why Guatemala Visible campaigned to get citizens to open their eyes, watch the processes, and denounce corrupt officials. It made visible a secretive process that had been held behind closed doors, where only politicians had access to the information, and positions were granted without public scrutiny, determined by political relationships rather than merit.

Certainly it was not the first time that people sent suggestions to electoral powers, but it was the first time the authorities really listened to the people and reduced the gap between citizens and decision makers. In the past, money and political influence was the only way to secure the election of public offices such as the justice of the Supreme Court or General Prosecutor. Guatemala Visible aims to increase the accountability of key officials by encouraging more public oversight of the nomination and selection processes.


Date of Audio: 
March 2, 2010


What are the biggest obstacles to your success?: 

It was not easy to write our vision and mission. We had to create our whole concept quickly because the selection processes were nearly underway. We had to gain trust and a reputation as a non-partisan non-profit group, rather than being seen as a lobbying group. Also it was not easy to collect the funds to carry out our plans.

How do you plan on overcoming those obstacles?: 

We had already gained the support of many people, so it was a collaborative effort with many people contributing since the beginning. Of course, one can always improve a project.

What problem is your project aiming to overcome?: 

Guatemala Visible wanted to put the spotlight on the selection process of six key public office nominees, including judges for the Supreme Court and Appellate Courts, among others. Its creation took place alongside the approval of the Law on Nominating Committees, whose mission is to regulate candidates' selection and recommendation process, to guarantee transparency in the election of high public officials, and to promote the participation of civil society in the candidate selection process.

What are the roots of that problem?: 

Before Guatemala Visible, civil society did not intervene in the process of appointing authorities. Apart from apathy, there were other barriers for ordinary people to understand the importance of such selection processes for key public officials. The procedure and legalese is not easy to understand, and for this reason, it took place behind closed doors.

Why did you personally become involved in this project?: 

I frequently ask myself that same question. I wanted to move from passive subject to active citizen, to become an agent of change and not merely an onlooker. The whole team wanted to become active participants in the process because we believe that the justice and security problems in Guatemala are critical, and we need to do something to solve them.

Are you providing unofficial channels of information that should be provided by the government?: 

From our perspective, it is not the government's responsibility to provide the information we facilitate on the Guatemala Visible platform. Our efforts are made by citizens and for citizens. We believe that if the spotlight is shone in the election processes, and if we provide information and explain the vital importance of having the most capable and honest people in key positions, then the public will understand how these decisions impact their lives, our lives, and our citizenship.

Why is the government not providing the information?: 

The Access to Public Information Law and the Law on Nominating Committees helped us access the required information. As stated earlier, this is a matter we need to address as a citizen initiative; the citizens should work on it and gather the information. It is not the government's duty to do so.

How does the information published on your website turn into offline change?: 

After analyzing the results of the first phase in the project, my perception is that Guatemalan citizens followed the appointment of the Supreme Court and Appellate Court judges. During the process, the nomination committees were glad that we were watching the proceedings. Local media covered our activities and used our materials as a source in their reports. We also live-streamed the nomination committees' sessions so that anyone could see them.

What is an example of how information on your website has led to a concrete change?: 

During our first project, our efforts made a difference when observing the appointment process of the Supreme Court and Appellate Court judges. When the potential candidates were informed that the process will be scrutinized by the public, many candidates abstained from applying while others dropped their applications altogether.

How many people work on your project?: 
How many hours a week do you personally spend on the project?: 

It depends. During the most important moments of the election process, I have to devote more hours to the project.

How many hours does the whole team spend on the project?: 

During the most intense stages of the process, members of the paid staff (4) worked up to 18-20 hours a day while volunteers (around 60) dedicated many hours of work to the initiative.

What are the most time consuming tasks?: 

Our organizational structure is similar to a company. We divide our tasks and teams into departments. The marketing department devotes its time to creating the campaigns, securing media coverage, and negotiating rates for TV and radio airtime. The research department focuses on investigative reports and aggregates all relevant information about the candidates on our website. The other department focuses on funding; they collect donations from generous Guatemalans who wish to give financial support to our initiative.

How do you extract value from large amounts of data? How do you build engagement around it?: 

The value we extracted was the civic engagement of Guatemalans. They developed more informed opinions as a result of their involvement in the appointment process for the Supreme Court and Appellate Court judges.

How do you verify the identities of participants on your website?: 

Only team members add content to the website, and attribution is given under Guatemala Visible's name so their identity is protected.

How do you attract new participants?: 

There are many organizations collaborating with our initiative, including NGOs, think tanks, and educational institutions all from different political, religious, and demographic backgrounds. We integrated the whole Guatemalan society into this effort and it is an enormous achievement to do so. Such organizations have spread the word among their networks.

What has been the most effective method of spreading awareness about your project?: 

We organized conferences and our campaigns had a positive effect on people, motivating them to wake up and act. There are different tools we use, but we are still looking for the support of skilled people who are willing to volunteer for our initiative.

What are the incentives to participate in your project?: 

The real incentive is that our collaborators are contributing to a better future. They are no longer passive inhabitants of our country, but they have became active citizens. The incentive is to know that their work will be a building block towards improving our justice system. We do not offer monetary incentives or other in-kind incentives.

What skills and expertise would be of assistance to your project?: 

With the technical aspects of our platform, our website is pretty cool, but I think we can improve it with assistance. We need a hand with our investigative reports too. Our investigations are basic and empirical, and we need to develop better skills to look at the data provided by different sources and dig deeper. We should improve our skills in order to spread our campaigns and raise more funds.

How do you plan on financially sustaining your project? : 

We want to implement better practices to improve our funding system and make spending more efficient with the kind help of Guatemalan citizens. We would like to create a trust to continue our mission in the future. But for now such stable funding is just a goal, and we depend on donations.

What other organizations are you working with?: 

Abuelas por Guatemala, Acción Ciudadana, Asociación de Gerentes de Guatemala (AGG), Asociación de Investigación y Estudios Sociales (ASIES), Asociación Gremial del Empresariado Rural (AGER), Asociación Guatemalteca de Exportadores (AGEXPORT), Asociación Nacional de Organizaciones No Gubernamentales de Recursos Nacionales y el Medio Ambiente (ASOREMA), Cámara de Industria de Guatemala (CIG), Cámara del Agro, Cámara Empresarial de Comercio y Servicios (CECOMS), Centro de Investigaciones Económicas (CIEN), Comité Coordinador de Asociaciones Agrícolas, Comerciales y Financieras (CACIF), Comunidad Judía de Guatemala, Confederación Guatemalteca de Federaciones Cooperativas (CONFECOOP), Consejo de Organizaciones Mayas de Guatemala (COMG), Convergencia Cívico Política de Mujeres, Facultad Latinoamericana de Ciencias Sociales (FLACSO), Familiares y Amigos contra la Delincuencia y el Secuestro (FADS), Foro Guatemala, Foro Maya, Fundación Kukulkán, Fundación Myrna Mack, Fundación para el Desarrollo de Guatemala (FUNDESA), Fundación Propaz, Fundación Sergio Paiz Andrade (FUNSEPA), Fundación Soros, Grupo de Apoyo Mutuo (GAM), Incidencia Democrática (IDEM), Instituto Demos, Joven Emergente, Jóvenes por Guatemala, Madres Angustiadas, Me Importa Guatemala, Movimiento Ciudadano GuateAmala, Movimiento Cívico Nacional (MCN), Movimiento Nacional por la Integridad, Movimiento Pro Justicia, Organismo Naleb, Paz Joven, Un Joven Más, and Universidad Rafael Landívar (URL)

Have you thought about developing your own tools?: 

We already developed our website.

Has there been any communication between your project and government officials?: 

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala inspired us to take action and do something for the future of our country. We have contacted the Congress. We have the support of the Special Congressional Commission on Justice System Reform, chaired by Nineth Montenegro and the Nominating Committees, but we do not depend on them.

Are there any legal obstacles to your work? Any laws that should be changed?: 

The new Law on Nominating Committees and its implementation should be improved. It would be really helpful to have flexible regulation in order to easily access the databases that contains information about the proposed candidates.

Have there been any attempts to replicate your work elsewhere?: 

Actually we were inspired by and replicated a project from Colombia.

What other projects in your region should we know about?: 

As we said Eleccion Visible inspired us. We traveled to Colombia and with their guidance and support, we were able to replicate and adapt such the experience to our local context.

If someone gave you $10,000 how would you use the money?: 

With my practical approach, I would use it to contribute to the visibility and transparency of the procedures in 2010, when we will elect three different authorities, including the Director of the National Office of Public Defense, the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor and the Guatemalan Accountant General.

If someone gave you $100,000 how would you use the money?: 

It would cover our priorities. But we would like to create a trust fund in order to be more independent and focused on our mission.

What are your plans for 2010 and 2011?: 

We will collaborate on the process to appoint the nominees for the Director of the National Office of Public Defense, the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor and the Guatemalan Accountant General. For such processes we would like to create materials, distribute them offline, and translate them into as many different national languages as possible to reach a broader audience. Our objective is to be as inclusive as possible.


Local languages

I think this is a great project as it allows for political, but very concrete and timely limited engagement by citizens outside of events such as general elections.

One thing I'd like to highlight very positively, is the relevance for providing audio information in Maya as well. I would be interested in how much this information was requested?

Going beyond information...

Gutemala Visible (GV) is so far a very interesting project, but it is still some steps back from its real potental. The fact that GV calls for the participation of citizens, urging them to be better informed, to share information and to discuss political campaigns of this kind is a very practical way to work in one of the most common issues in Latin American politics: a well informed decision beyond deafening political campaigns.

The fact that GV has already a website in which people can find information about the candidates and participate is important, but is just the beginning. Having already a virtual point that has been used by people serves as a bridge and can build a stronger attachment. As it has happened in so many parts of the world, the apathy and misinformation of people permitted money and political influence a secure way to the election of public offices. Nevertheless, this is not a problem that could be solved in few years or with the work of just one group, but efforts like Guatemala Visible sure sure represent a very interesting beginning. This is why the project needs to explore, to expand and to promote not only discussion and mere information, but also encourage a critical opinion around what is being offered by the candidates. Guatemala Visible has also the potential of be a axe of dialogue and citizen education, and to advocate for the equality in the access to technology.

Few things in a country's life are more complex (and complicated) than the construction and implementation of laws. If there's already a virtual place that has started the conversation, why stopping there ? They already have attachment with multiple organizations and this could also facilitate organizing and publishing surveys, for example. What about videos with experts, professors, journalists, people with questions, or explanations with simple words about what it needs to be achieved and what it's being offered ? An idea close to this seems to be already on the table with universities' links on the site. There could also be be an online collaborative library with helpful documents and illustrative videos. Encouraging informed vote starts with critical thought, far from campaigns pointing who's “good” or “bad”. The perfect candidate doesn't exist. What is ideal in this case is a better comprehension of the problems happening at the moment and its causes, as well as seeing who has the proposals that respond as accurately as possible to those needs, far beyond the promises and the reassurance of a candidate that guarantees his or her honesty and will to work. Those are basic conditions, not advantages.

There's a need to see from close what the concrete approaches are and the consequences of the strategies might be in daily life. This is also linked to a better understanding of the most important needs of the country and the origins of these. A view to the past, a call to independent thought, a better understanding of civic participation should also be part of the objectives of this project. If the website uses its tools just to inform about the candidates and their intentions they risk to be part of political campaigns. One of the real values of this project is its immense possibility of divulgation and the encouraging of citizens to be part of a collective exercise of thought, and it should go for it.

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