Grantee Spotlight: Myrna Mack Foundation, 2021 Democracy Award Recipient
Myrna Mack Chang was an anthropologist who researched human rights violations of internally-displaced people in Guatemala. She had been outwardly criticizing the government for these violations when she was stabbed on the street outside her office in the capital city in 1991. The tragedy fueled Chang’s sister, Helen Beatriz Mack Chang to seek prosecution of the killers. After two years, the Guatemalan government acknowledged responsibility for the death of Myrna in a landmark verdict, which paved the way for similar human rights cases.
This horrific experience inspired Helen in 1993 to establish the Myrna Mack Foundation—a National Endowment for Democracy (NED) grantee—to fight against impunity, strengthen the rule of law, and support peace and democracy. Helen has since dedicated her life to seeking justice for others who suffered during and after Guatemala’s 36-year civil war.
“Because of my sister’s killing, we started the fight against impunity to get justice,” said Helen. “Justice is one of the pillars of democracy and, as we were ending the conflict, justice should be the power that can solve conflict in a pacifist way, instead of in a violent way or [way that] violates human rights.”
The Myrna Mack Foundation informs and engages Guatemalan citizens to influence local governance and defend human rights through extensive research, documentation, and advocacy across multiple platforms. Recent reports analyze the work of 27 regional power networks since the last elections, document hate speech and media attacks, and study transparency across the Central American region.
“Sometimes it seems like something that happened in Honduras is happening in Guatemala and then it’s happening in El Salvador or in Nicaragua,” says Executive Director of the Myrna Mack Foundation, Lissette Vásquez. “And those problems are about the weakness of our democracies and also justice, security, poverty, migration. [So] for the last years, [we are] working in networks with many countries in the region.”
This regional collaboration remains imperative as civil society organizations face persistent attacks and threats for speaking up against organized crime and corruption. A controversial new law draws criticism from activists for allowing the government the ability to limit the work of civil society organizations that receive international funding.
“Civil society contributions to defending the rule of law in Guatemala are a cornerstone of the country’s painfully long arc of justice, not to mention indispensable for a more democratic future,” says Miriam Kornblith, senior director for Latin America and the Caribbean at NED. “The Myrna Mack Foundation has demonstrated over and over through the decades its unwavering commitment to breaking the cycle of impunity and advocating for justice for victims of grave abuses.”
The Myrna Mack Foundation helps dissect complex topics such as regional criminal networks and corruption to connect with citizens to help improve their daily lives. “I think that the work we do through our investigations or research, through the training is educating people in democracy, justice, and the rule of law,” explains Helen. “Impunity, these criminal networks, corruption … they are impacting daily life [and] also affecting the future, especially for the new generations. They should be understanding how or why this corruption and kleptocracy is affecting our living.”
Learn More About the Myrna Mack Foundation
2021 Democracy Award Recipient Bios
Helen Beatriz Mack Chang
2021 Democracy Award Recipients
Established in the midst of the Indignados (‘Outraged’) protests of 2015 in Honduras, Producciones Red Comunica, Investiga y Conecta S. de R.L de C.V, Contracorriente, emerged from a need to provide citizens with objective, accurate information on issues of human rights, corruption, and the environment, among others.
Myrna Mack Foundation, Guatemala
Since its founding, the Foundation has trained civil society and government agencies on democratic governance, political participation, transparency and citizen security with a comprehensive view on human rights.
Human Rights Collective Nicaragua Nunca Más, Nicaragua
Human Rights Collective, Nicaragua Nunca Más is an organization dedicated to preserving historical memory and seeking justice for victims of the state-led violence unleashed by the Ortega regime in 2018.
TRACODA, El Salvador
The Asociación Transparencia, Contraloría Social y Datos Abiertos (Transparency, Social Oversight, and Open Data Association, or TRACODA) is an organization made up of young professionals with a variety of backgrounds that devote themselves to strengthening democracy and the fight against corruption in the public and private spheres.