Guatemalan “Coup in Slow Motion”Continues: Danger Ahead

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Author: Vicki Gass

There is no way to overstate this. The Guatemalan people’s voice and vote are in grave danger. Backed by powerful, corrupt actors, President Giammattei and Attorney General Porras continue their efforts to overturn the August 20, 2023 elections and prevent Presidential-Elect Bernardo Arévalo from being inaugurated on January 14, 2024. The Movimiento Semilla won by a landslide, with 58 percent of the vote, by constituents sick and tired of the lack of social services and jobs and a corrupt, absentee government.

The tactics used by the Guatemalan government include intimidation, threats, and legal actions against election workers and members of the Semilla Party. With “legal backing” by corrupt judge Fredy Orellana, the Attorney General’s office ordered the special anti-corruption unit and the National Civilian Police to raid the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) offices four times, illegally searching and removing electoral material, jeopardizing the integrity of the electoral process.

Secretary General Almagro of the Organization of American States asserted that the permanent and baseless harassment by the Attorney General constitutes an political persecution reminiscent of that carried out by authoritarian regimes. An attack of this nature is, he said, “unprecedented in the electoral observations of recent decades and constitutes a shameful example for the hemisphere.”

Attorney General Porras’ unlawful seizure of electoral ballots on September 29 sparked peaceful protests and blockades throughout the country. The demonstrations were initiated on October 2, 2023 by Indigenous authorities of the 48 Cantons of Totonicapán and ancestral communities outraged at the theft of the ballots and the threat to democracy. Human rights activists, women’s groups, students, businesses, workers, and religious leaders heeded their call and joined the demonstrations. The protestors are demanding the resignation of Attorney General Porras, Special Prosecutor against Corruption Rafael Currichiche, and Judge Fredy Orellana as the most public faces of the corruption and the threat to democracy in Guatemala. As of this writing, demonstrations are continuing with protestors singing the national anthem, dancing to music, playing games with children, and waving the Guatemalan flag.

Nevertheless, President Giammattei, Attorney General Porras and others have accused the demonstrations of being violent and criminal, instigated by President Elect Arévalo and supported by international NGOs. They also accused the U.S Agency for International Development of supporting the protests. They seek to end the protests, divide the opposition, and blame the Semilla Party for the unrest with the ultimate goal of overturning the election results.

Encouragingly, the international community has been firm in calling on all Guatemalan institutions to respect the electoral process, support a peaceful transition of power, and end the spurious attacks and use of lawfare against President-Elect Arévalo, Vice-President Herrera, founding members of the Semilla Party and peaceful protestors. The U.S. government condemned the anti-democratic actions and expressed “grave concern” over the threat to a peaceful transition. The E.U., similarly, called on the Guatemalan government to ensure a peaceful transition and hold any government official or individual accountable for obstructing a democratic transfer of power. In turn, OAS Secretary General Almagro strongly condemned the actions of the Guatemalan government to criminalize the Semilla Party, calling the actions unacceptable. In addition, the OAS General Assembly has met frequently to debate invoking the democratic charter, and the U.S. State Department, U.S. Embassy officials and OAS missions have travelled frequently to the country in attempts to resolve the crisis.

This high-level engagement by the U.S. government is due in no small part to the work of LAWG and sister organizations that have continuously briefed members of the Biden administration and U.S. Congress and have advocated for stronger actions, while keeping our supporters like YOU up-to-date and on alert. This will be even more critical leading up to the inauguration. Designed to give ample time for review of ballots, the official electoral campaign ends on October 31, 2023, and LAWG and our partners are bracing for an onslaught of spurious legal charges against elected members of the Semilla Party, elected party members and civil society organizations. There is also the threat of violent repression of peaceful protestors by security forces riled up by false criminal allegations of President Giammattei or Attorney General Porras. LAWG and our allies will continue to spur the Biden administration to maintain pressure on the Guatemalan government to cease its misuse of the judicial system (so-called “lawfare”), guarantee a peaceful transition of power and explore additional actions such as an executive order imposing temporary trade restrictions in the event that President Giammattei and his allies continue with their anti-democratic actions. Your support makes our critical work defending the voice and vote of the Guatemalan people possible.