The elections of 2023 have been a materialization of decades of human rights violations, implemented since colonial times to this day, with the consolidation of power in the hands of a few to carry out their economic interests with impunity. In spite of this, over the last few months we have seen the Guatemalan people rise up, again and again, against different authoritarian actions by the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.
Perspectives from NISGUA’s partners of the elections:
Ancestral authorities – such as the Parliament of the Xinka People, territorial defense organizations such as the Departmental Assembly of the People of Huehuetenango(ADH), organizations in search of memory, truth and justice such as the Association for Justice and Reconciliation (AJR), among others – stand firm, pronouncing themselves in defense of democracy, the rule of law, and the popular will.
It is important to respect the functions, processes and competencies of the different institutions of the State. Therefore, they reject the actions of the Public Ministry and the Constitutional Court that seek to judicialize the electoral processes that have been free and democratic.
Respect for the Constitutional Order is imperative, for which reason they ask the Constitutional Court to act in accordance with the law and to hear, process and resolve petitions for protection, such as those presented by the ancestral authorities during this electoral period for the respect of democracy.
It is emphasized that given the abuse and arbitrariness of power of the Attorney General as head of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, the Prosecutor of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI), and corrupt judges, they should all be removed from their positions.
Respect for the freedom and sovereignty of Indigenous Peoples transcends an electoral period. Indigenous Peoples of Guatemala have spoken out for the defense of life and territory in the face of the presentation, analysis and approval of different laws in Congress that seek to consolidate power and sweep away the memory, justice and dignity of the Peoples.
Given the current scenario, the ancestral authorities call on the general population to be prepared to continue the struggle for democracy and the sovereignty of the Peoples.
Photo credits: Juan Rosales
The most relevant political-electoral events of these months in Guatemala have been:
On June 25, 2023, the first round of presidential elections were held amidst calls from grassroots movements to “Vote with Memory, Justice and Dignity”. These elections were held in a context of deteriorating rule of law. Institutions in charge of conducting the elections had (and continue to have) little independence or credibility. The governmental authorities prohibited the participation of certain opposition candidates and conducted arbitrary criminal proceedings in order to generate unequal conditions that favored candidates close to the “Corrupt Pact”(1) Both the Semilla Movement Party, running on an anti-corruption platform, and the National Unity for Hope (UNE), a party known for its connections to the “Corrupt Pact,” made it to the second round.
On July 12, at the request of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, criminal judge Fredy Orellana suspended Semilla’s legal status alleging that the party had committed crimes related to the collection of signatures for its registration. However, on July 13, the Constitutional Court suspended the decision, ruling that the judge could not suspend the August 20 elections. Despite this, the Public Prosecutor’s Office carried out a series of raids, both at the offices of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal and Semilla’s headquarters.
On September 12, In another effort to undermine the electoral process, the Attorney General and the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity, raided the offices of Semilla and the Citizen Registry of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to open ballot boxes, arguing that there was voter fraud from the first round. The population and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal expressed deep concern about the breaking of the seal and chain of custody, since the law specifies that only the Supreme Electoral Tribunal has the authority to verify and qualify the electoral documentation.
Throughout August and September, the international community has expressed grave concern over the attempts by the Corrupt Pact to overturn the will of the people. For example: U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris held a phone call with Guatemalan President-Elect Arévalo to express support for “the preservation of Guatemala’s democratic values and institutions, including elections free of intimidation or interference”; Brazilian President Lula warned at the United Nations General Assembly that “in Guatemala, there is a risk of a coup”; Colombian President Gustavo Petro expressed in an interview with Democracy Now! that what is happening in Guatemala will either “allow the popular vote” or it will be a “repeat of Allende”.
Photo credit: Human Right Watch. August 18th, 2023.
But, why is this an attack against democracy?
Because with the following actions or omissions, governmental actors colluding with interests of the Corrupt Pact seek to destabilize the political power of the country.
According to the analyst Máximo Bal Tiul, the attack against democracy has happened from the moment in which the Supreme Electoral Tribunal denied the registration of parties early this year due to procedural formalities, while approving the registration of others, even in spite of indications of their belonging to drug trafficking groups, or to their constitutionally ineligibility.
The complicity between the Public Ministry, the Supreme Court of Justice and the Constitutional Court for the use and abuse of government powers has been evident as a means to undermine due process and the representative democracy of the electoral processes.
The challenges to the electoral process have been issued by authorities whose mandate should have ended more than three years ago. There are political-economic interests that have decided to keep them in that position in order to guarantee their interests and impunity. In view of this Arévalo, the elected candidate, has initiated legal actions to withdraw political privileges from the primary perpetrators who are acting against the popular vote.
The actions of this triad of institutions threatens not only to cancel Semilla and hinder the transition, but also to potentially annul the electoral process. According to experts, the decision to cancel the political party would not affect Arévalo’s appointment as president, although it is wearing down the legal team of his party and weakening Arévalo’s government, since the 23 Congressional representatives elected by that party would not be able to be a part of legislative commissions nor on the board of directors of the Congress.
The control and use of the justice system to criminalize opponents and guarantee impunity. A key tool during this electoral period and prior to it, has been the continued criminalization of territorial defenders and indigenous and community leaders. This criminalization was extended to justice operators, journalists, and civil society leaders in urban centers, and to politicians. For example: Virginia Laparra, Claudia González, Miguel Ángel Gálvez, Pablo Xitumul, Orlando López, Carlos Ruano, among others.
Meanwhile, faced with the uncertainty of the future of political power in the country, those who want to protect themselves are seeking to further entrench their impunity and that of the groups they are allied with, such as military groups, through the approval of laws in Congress. Law 6099 seeks amnesty for the perpetrators of crimes against humanity during the Internal Armed Conflict. The Law for the Protection of Plant Breeding seeks to privatize natural resources, such as native seeds (defenders of life and territory have called this the “Monsanto Law” because of its impact on the lives of Indigenous Peoples in Guatemala).
Photo credit: Prensa Comunitaria. September 25th,2023.
Facing the threat to democracy in Guatemala, we must be attentive to the electoral political events, with special attention to two dates: the first date is October 31, when the electoral period ends and the suspension of Semilla could be reactivated. The second date is January 14, 2024, the day of the presidential inauguration in Guatemala. Although the current President Giammattei recognized the victory, the transition meetings have been suspended until the legality and arbitrariness of the persecution against democracy is resolved.
Guatemala shows us that the people will always raise their voices to defend their rights, and even more so when those rights are undermined through legal and institutional efforts. That will only make the people’s voices louder. These days the people of Guatemala are mobilized, their power is felt, even though the current context is a reflection of the acts of oppression of colonial times. The people continue to resist.
As NISGUA we join this resistance, and we call on all collectives, movements and organizations of trans-territorial solidarity to position ourselves in solidarity with the people of Guatemala from wherever we are and through whatever creative ways are possible to us.
1) “Corrupt Pact” (in Spanish “Pacto de Corruptos”) is a term used in Guatemala to refer to politicians, businessmen, organized crime and members of the judicial system accused of acts of corruption and who maintain a system of impunity that protects them from prosecution and maintain their political and economic control at the expense of the majority of the population.