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Either They Don’t Govern or Govern with Their Hands Tied

The other faction wants to impede a legitimate party and president from assuming power

Bernardo Arevalo, Guatemala’s president-elect, speaking at a press conference in San Jose, Costa Rica. Photo: Jeffrey Arguedas / EFE

16 de diciembre 2023

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Bernardo Arevalo and his political party Movimiento Semilla won a broad and clean victory in Guatemala’s last election. In the runoff held on August 20th of this year, Arevalo and his party received 60.9% of the votes, while his opponent, Sandra Torres of the Unidad Nacional de Esperanza party, came away with 39.1%.

Two months previously, however, in June’s Congressional elections, Semilla only won 11% of the votes for legislative seats. An alliance made up of the party of current president Alejandro Giammettei and right-wing legislator Manuel Conde (Vamos por una Guatemala Diferente), plus Torres’ party, won 30% of the seats in the Legislative Power. That advantage, plus the support of some minor parties, will make up a clear parliamentary majority.


In Guatemala, the Congressional majority controls the Judicial Branch. Between the two bodies – Congress and the Court system, including the Supreme Court – they’ve decided to take advantage of the prolonged lapse between the August elections and the January 14 inauguration to try to keep the progressive candidate from assuming the presidency.

First, they succeeded in invalidating Movimiento Semilla, having it removed from the registry as a political party, alleging falsified signatures. Then they promoted the annulment of Arevalo’s triumph for similar reasons, something that’s highly unusual in any democratic electoral system where the elections, once certified by the electoral authorities, are unquestionable.

The Guatemalan electoral authorities, specifically the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, have remained on the side of Arevalo and Semilla, firmly insisting on the veracity of the August results. Guatemalan civil society has also mobilized. Also, curiously, the inter-American human rights bodies such as the Inter-American Commission for Human Rights and the OAS have defended Arevalo’s victory, acting more assertively than the Latin American mechanisms.

The other faction wants to impede a legitimate party and president from assuming power. They’re motivated by their rejection of the winning candidate’s moderately leftist program: combatting corruption, defending social rights, the environment and international diversification, without a concentration of power, militarism, or some variant of the autocracy of its neighbors in Nicaragua and El Salvador.

The offensive launched against Arrevalo foreshadows the tensions his government will experience when they come to power. The “lawfare” against the president has already begun before the inauguration, and there’s no reason to think it will cease once he occupies the presidential seat. It all seems aimed at guaranteeing that, in case he does come to govern, he’ll do so with a political trial or legal case hanging over him like the sword of Damocles.

In a region so marked by US interventionism and by the authoritarian tendencies of all the ideologies, it’s a hopeful sign that Arevalo has had the support of US President Joe Biden and different inter-American forums. Even so, there’s no reason to expect a succession or a government without turbulence in the coming years.

Article originally published in Mexico’s “La Razon. and translated by Havana Times

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Rafael Rojas

Historiador y ensayista cubano, residente en México. Es licenciado en Filosofía y doctor en Historia. Profesor e investigador del Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) de la Ciudad de México y profesor visitante en las universidades de Princeton, Yale, Columbia y Austin. Es autor de más de veinte libros sobre América Latina, México y Cuba.

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