In a surprising move, Guatemala’s military brass-linked president’s new health minister is the daughter of Myrna Mack, an anthropologist assassinated by a death squad in 1990 for speaking out against the military’s human rights abuses during the country’s civil war.
The new minister, Lucrecia Hernandez Mack, also breaks with the mold of the Central American nation’s typical political leaders. As the daughter of an assassination victim in the final years of Guatemala’s brutal 36-year civil war, Hernandez Mack could have a keen eye to the legacy of the country’s history in present-day systemic problems.
“It’s an enormous challenge to take on a portfolio like Health, which is complex and complicated and inherits a number of historical and economic problems,” Hernandez Mack said after being sworn in as minister.
President Jimmy Morales inaugurated Hernandez Mack on Tuesday after the former minister, Alfonso Cabrera, resigned last week citing personal reasons, though he had previously announced plans to step down if the deep problems in the public health system couldn’t be resolved.
Since Morales and his government entered office in January for a four year term, two other ministers of the 14-member cabinet have also resigned as investigations into massive government corruption scandals continue to deepen.
Unlike Morales — a comedian-turned-politician with the conservative, civil war-era military elite-backed National Convergence Front party who billed himself as a political outsider but has failed to articulate a clear policy direction — Hernandez Mack sees herself as a progressive.
The new minister considers herself “a Guatemalan woman deeply marked by the history of the country and of (her) family,” and says she aligns with the political left, according to AFP.
Hernandez Mack’s mother Myrna, a Guatemalan anthropologist of Mayan and Chinese descent, was assassinated by death squad agents in 1990 for her criticism of the government’s brutal treatment of Indigenous people – later deemed genocide – as well as her criticism human rights abuses during the civil war.
Myrna Mack’s case was historic in getting a landmark decision in 1993 to convict one of the attackers, a low-ranking official, who stabbed her to death. Later, in 2002, Colonel Juan Valencia Osorio was convicted for ordering the murder, though the decision was overturned the following year. Nevertheless, the case was considered precedent-setting in paving the way for further investigations into the masterminds behind abuses carried out during the bloody 36-year war.
The background of the new minister — who takes over a health system in ruins, ransacked in part by a US$14.5 million fraud scandal in the Social Security Institute that came to light last year — contrasts sharply with the political stripes of Morales’ close allies.
One of Morales’ top advisors and a founder of his National Convergence Front Party, Edgar Justine Ovalle Maldonado, is the target of a campaign to strip him of his legislative immunity to make him face trial for crimes against humanity. The former high-ranking general is accused of overseeing death squads and being a mastermind behind dozens of massacres in Quiche between 1981 and 1982, some of the bloodiest years of the civil war.
Critics say Morales hasn’t taken enough concrete actions in his first seven months in office to show a political commitment to resolving the country’s problems.
Hernandez Mack has worked in public health issues with organizations including the Pan-American Health Organization and World Health Organization in Guatemala. She has a master's degree in public health, completed post-graduate studies in social medicine, and is currently completing a doctoral thesis in Collective Health Sciences with Mexico's Metropolitan Autonomous University, or UNAM.