Guatemala: new attack by prosecutors against presidential candidate

A standoff between the services of Guatemala’s attorney general and Social Democratic candidate Bernardo Arevalo, who is running for a surprise second round of presidential elections on August 20, continued on Friday with a search of his party’s headquarters.

“The Office of the Special Prosecutor against impunity, in coordination with the PNC (National Civil Police), is conducting searches of the headquarters of the political party Semilla, located in the center of the capital Guatemala, a new episode in a presidential campaign marked by judicial acts,” the body wrote on Twitter.

The search began hours after the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) filed an appeal before the Constitutional Court, aimed at preventing the attorney general’s office from obstructing a second round in which Mr Arévalo should also oppose Sandra Torres, a social democratic sensibility.

Whoever wins the election will succeed President Alejandro Giammattei on January 14, ending 12 years of right-wing government.

But there is still voting to be done. After the discovery, Bernardo Arevalo, son of former President Juan José Arevalo (1945–1951), said, “This act is part of the political persecution of corrupt minorities who know they are losing power day by day.”

Prosecutors reported that the search was conducted “to obtain clues that strengthen the investigation” against the Semilla party for alleged irregularities during its creation in 2017.

Prosecutor Rafael Kuruchiche launched proceedings against Semilla after the first round of the presidential election on June 25, after Mr Arevalo caused a surprise by qualifying behind Ms Torres.

Bernardo Arevalo (D) talks with supporters after a press conference in Guatemala City on July 19, 2023 (AFP – Johan Ordóñez)

Judge Freddy Orellana suspended the party’s legal registration last week at their request, citing alleged irregularities in the registration of its members.

However, the Constitutional Court suspended the decision the next day, which drew criticism both in Guatemala and abroad, seeing it as an attempt to exclude Mr. Arevalo from the second round.

Also on Mr. Kuruchiche’s orders, the TSE’s offices were searched twice, notably for refusing to comply with Judge Orellana’s controversial order to disqualify Semilla.

– “Lose Power” –

A week ago, they raided the offices of the civil registry at the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). An arrest warrant has also been issued against a leader of Semilla.

Although the candidates who won the first round are both Social Democrats, the actions of prosecutors and judge Orellana focused on Mr. Arévalo. Perhaps they are perceived by the powerful sectors of the country as a threat to their interests.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) on Friday expressed concern about “interference in the electoral process in Guatemala, in the context of the lack of independence of the Public Ministry and its Attorney General Consuelo Porras.”

Guatemala's former first lady and current candidate for president, Sandra Torres, in Guatemala City, July 20, 2023 (AFP - Johan Ordonez)
Guatemala’s former first lady and current candidate for president, Sandra Torres, in Guatemala City, July 20, 2023 (AFP – Johan Ordonez)

Luis Almagro, Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), condemned the “attacks for political purposes”.

In a press release, the government described the TSE’s recourse as “surprising and regrettable”, noting that the executive had provided “all guarantees of security and access to the vote during the electoral process”.

In its appeal to the Constitutional Court, the TSE asked the public prosecutor as well as the police, the army, the Supreme Court and other institutions in the country to order the second round of guarantees.

The TSE believes that “there is a definite, future and imminent danger that the censured authorities violate the democratic rule of law by not guaranteeing the exercise of the functions of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, provisional electoral bodies and citizens in general”.

The current political system is “afraid of losing power”, underlined Manfredo Marroquin of the NGO Axion Ciudadana, the local section of Transparency International. “They are in a state of panic and are looking for the last resort at all costs to thwart Arévalo’s victory.”

Dozens of Mr Arevalo’s supporters gathered outside the party headquarters during the search.

Rafael Curuchiche, the prosecutor in Guatemala, attends a journalist's statement at the courthouse in Guatemala City on May 2, 2023 (AFP/Archive - Johan Ordonez)
Rafael Curuchiche, the prosecutor in Guatemala, attends a journalist’s statement at the courthouse in Guatemala City on May 2, 2023 (AFP/Archive – Johan Ordonez)

Protesters said of the official listed by the United States in 2022 on a list of Central American nationals linked to “corrupt and undemocratic acts”, “Kuruchiche is not a prosecutor, he is a criminal.”

EU spokesman Peter Stano warned that “attempts to nullify the election results” would inevitably have an impact on Guatemala’s international relations, including those of the European Union.

Add a Comment