Guatemala at Risk: An Assault on Democracy

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Guatemala is in the midst of a struggle to preserve its democratic life. Since the presidential run-off held last August 25, the country has witnessed a blatant attempt by the ruling party, and other co-opted powers of the State, to undermine the will of the people and reduce Guatemalan democracy to a mere procedural facade.

The victory of the Movimiento Semilla, led by Bernardo Arevalo and Karin Herrera, marked a milestone in Guatemalan politics: for the first time in years, the country elected a progressive presidential duo. The Movimiento Semilla had emerged from the social protests against former president Otto Pérez Molina in 2015 with an anti-corruption message, in favor of wealth distribution, indigenous rights and environmental protection.

However, since even before its victory at the polls, the Movimiento Semilla faced a campaign of relentless persecution from the Public Prosecutor’s Office and other organs of State. Prior to the elections, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, through the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity -FECI-, initiated an investigation for alleged falsification of signatures in the constitution of the Movimiento Semilla as a political party. The party’s representatives have been denied access to the complete file more than thirty times.

After the first round, the Public Prosecutor’s Office, alleging the falsification of signatures, requested the first instance court to suspend the legal personality of Movimiento Semilla. The ordinary justice system granted the suspension without further grounds, contravening the Constitution of Guatemala, which stipulates that during the electoral processes the highest authority is the Supreme Electoral Tribunal.

That a judge considers himself competent to hear and resolve an electoral matter based on an ordinary norm (Law Against Organized Crime) and placing it before the Constitution in inexplicable. Finally, this resolution was left without effect, since during the period of the electoral process, which will last until October 31 of the current year, the suspension of a political party is expressly prohibited as regulated by the norm of constitutional rank, Electoral and Political Parties Law. This resolution was only distorted since a norm of constitutional rank (Electoral and Political Parties Law) states that there is an express prohibition to suspend a political party while the electoral process is in force. The question that arises is what will happen after October 31 when the term of the electoral process ends?

The period between the first and second round was full of uncertainty: the Public Ministry requested, due to the alleged case of falsification of signatures, to prevent the participation of Movimiento Semillas and even some powerful stakeholder talked about the need to “repeat the elections”, even if this would not be legal.

The second round of elections was later held, during which Movimiento Semilla was victorious by a significant margin. The opposition, led by Sandra Torres’ Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza, in its third bid for presidency, refused to recognize the electoral results despite not having the evidence to justify such refusal.

Subsequently, the opposition to the Movimiento Semilla filed a complaint stating that the software used for the transmission of preliminary results had been manipulated and, therefore, the results were not reliable and should be declared invalid. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal carried out a recount of votes that did not show significant differences with respect to the first count and did not detect any irregularities. Reaffirming what happened: the Movimiento Semilla won in a legitimate and transparent manner.

Despite this, the Public Prosecutor’s Office decided to act, carrying out unprecedented raids in the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and proceeding to the seizure of the minutes in order to carry out its own vote count. In addition to the above, the case was submitted under reserve, which means that the media and the general public were excluded from the actions carried out during the investigation and the judicial process.

Consequently, the native peoples called for a National Strike on October 2, 2023 with which they demanded the resignation of the Attorney General of the Public Ministry, Consuelo Porras and the prosecutor Rafel Curruchiche, head of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity and Judge Fredy Orellana, who ordered the (illegal) cancellation of the political party Movimiento Semilla. These citizens began peaceful demonstrations in different parts of the country and also gathered at the Public Prosecutor’s Office located in Guatemala City.

Since then, Guatemala has witnessed days of a general strike and mobilization in defense of democracy. Various social, leftist, peasant and grassroots groups have taken to the streets to demand respect for the electoral results and that Arevalo and Herrera assume the presidency in January as established by the will of the Guatemalan people.

However, the conservative right-wing parties are against these demonstrations which they simply call “blockades”. They allege that these actions only harm the economy, which is why they have also organized counter demonstrations to express their discontent with them.

On the morning of October 16, a group of paramilitaries infiltrated by the government, accompanied by the National Civil Police, approached one of the demonstration points in Malacatán, Department of San Marcos. Without the slightest intention of dialogue, they opened fire on the citizens who were peacefully demonstrating, leaving 1 person dead and 2 wounded. The photos and videos taken by the demonstrators themselves at the moment of the aggression were fundamental for the citizens to identify those who committed these criminal acts, among them the mayor in office and his bodyguards, using a vehicle in the name of this same official that was used during the electoral campaign.

This attempted violation of democratic norms must be strongly condemned. Guatemalan democracy is at stake, and it is the responsibility of all citizens and democracy advocates around the world to support the Guatemalan people in their struggle for a legitimate government and respect for the will of the people. The international community must be vigilant and act to ensure that Guatemala remains an example of democracy in the region.