Central America: Guatemala, the brazenness of a nefarious system

Attempted technical coup d’état

The elections in Guatemala on 25 June ratified the image of a country institutionally in ‘checkmate’, prisoner of a deeply corrupt political-institutional system and a predatory neoliberal extractivist economic model, which have forced millions of Guatemalans to survive in poverty and misery.

An electoral process that was manipulated from the beginning by institutions bent to the interests of de facto groups and local elites, which swept away the candidacy of those who represented a real threat to the status quo.

Among others, the presidential ticket of the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP), the political arm of the Peasant Development Committee (Codeca), made up of indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera and former human rights ombudsman Jordán Rodas, was cut off.

The electoral process is taking place in a context of a country with institutions that are committed to defending the interests of national elites and transnational capital, with dozens of defenders of the land, territories and common goods being persecuted, and with more than thirty judges and prosecutors forced into exile.

A context of a militarised country, with territories submerged in a permanent state of emergency, with increasingly aggressive military, defending the interests of companies holding concessions and extractive projects.

Protest won

The winner in the first round of the elections was undoubtedly the protest vote. Seventeen percent of voters – 60 percent of the electoral roll – cancelled their vote and another, seven percent left their ballot blank.

This means that 24 per cent of those who decided to go to the polls endorsed the call of different sectors of Guatemalan society, especially indigenous organisations, to cast a protest vote.

If we consider that the top two candidates, former first lady Sandra Torres of the UNE (Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza) and professor and congressman Bernardo Arévalo of the Movimiento Semilla, obtained 16 and 12 percent respectively, the popular rejection of this electoral contest and of politics in general, as well as of the new and old national right and conservatism, undoubtedly other losers in these elections, is evident.

Defeated right wing

Those parties that embody corruption and repression were defeated, among them the pro-government Vamos and the Vision with Values Party (Valor), led by the daughter of former dictator and genocidal leader Efraín Ríos Montt, were relegated to a paltry 7.8 and 6.6 percent.

The other side of the coin was the surprising result obtained by Arévalo and the Seed Movement, which emerged in 2015 in the heat of protests against the government corruption of then president Otto Pérez and his vice-president Roxana Baldetti.

Favoured by the forced exclusion of the few anti-establishment electoral proposals, Arévalo managed to attract part of the punishment and anti-corruption vote, establishing an image of a progressive proposal far removed from traditional politics.

Institutional hitmen

If the results of 25 June are confirmed, Torres and Arévalo will compete for the presidency of the country on 20 August.

Whoever wins, their government would face a strongly divided Congress, functional to the de facto power, and pulverised into a score of parties.

The use of the conditional in the Guatemalan electoral context is almost obligatory, as the result of the first round seems to have shaken the deepest fears of the corrupt elites.

It is not surprising, then, that immediately after the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) released the preliminary final results, right-wing parties filed several writs of amparo to obstruct the officialisation of the results.

This delayed the whole process, generating uncertainty and preoccupation. And since, in the end, the magistrates had no choice but to ratify the preliminary results, it was necessary to find another solution.

On 12 July, while the TSE was making the results of the first round, official, a judge ordered the suspension of the Seed Movement.

The measure was in response to a criminal case brought against Arévalo’s party by the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity, for the alleged crime of falsifying signatures and illegally registering people in exchange for money.

It is impossible not to read behind this measure, which openly violates the Electoral Law that prohibits the suspension of a party after an election has been called, the intention of the Guatemalan ruling groups to get rid of an uncomfortable candidate.

Already on Wednesday afternoon, the Constitutional Court granted a provisional injunction to Movimiento Semilla and the Electoral Tribunal has requested that the judge’s order be rescinded.

The next few hours will define how much audacity the Guatemalan nefarious system has to secure its privileges.

Giorgio Trucchi