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Guatemala Suspends President-Elect’s Party -WSJ

  • Move against leftist Seed Movement of Bernardo Arévalo raises concerns of democratic backsliding
Guatemala President-elect Bernardo Arévalo, a politician of the center-left, swept to a surprising victory in an election earlier this month. Photo: johan ordonez/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Guatemala President-elect Bernardo Arévalo, a politician of the center-left, swept to a surprising victory in an election earlier this month.(johan ordonez/AFP)

Santiago Pérez and Juan Carlos Rivera , NYTimes

MEXICO CITY/NEW YORK
Energiesnet.com 08 31 2023

Guatemalan electoral authorities suspended the party of President-elect Bernardo Arévalo, fueling concerns that government and justice officials are seeking to undermine the center-leftist’s rise to power

The suspension late Monday could prevent the Seed Movement’s legislators from taking their seats in Congress, which party members say could weaken governance in the impoverished Central American country. 

The presidential election that Arévalo won by a landslide earlier this month was marked by judicial challenges and allegations of irregularities against the candidate and his party. Arévalo’s surprise victory followed a campaign focused on combating endemic corruption in Central America’s most populated country. 

“We knew that it was going to be complicated because this system of corruption clings and we threaten it,” said Samuel Pérez, the leader of the Seed Movement’s 23 legislators elected in June’s first-round vote. Pérez and other party members filed an appeal Tuesday with the country’s top electoral court against the suspension, which was ordered by a lower electoral body.

Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei promised an orderly and transparent transition. Photo: GUATEMALA PRESIDENCY/REUTERS
Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei promised an orderly and transparent transition. (Guatemala Presidency)

After Arévalo unexpectedly made it to the runoff in June, Attorney General Consuelo Porras and her anticorruption prosecutor sought to cancel the registration of Arévalo’s party on grounds that members falsified thousands of signatures to register the Seed Movement in 2019. A dozen senior Seed Movement members, fearing arrest, fled Guatemala. The party’s headquarters were raided. 

Monday’s suspension was announced minutes before Arévalo was officially ratified as president-elect by the electoral court on Monday night. 

“From this moment on, nothing can prevent us from taking office on January 14, as established by the constitution,” Arévalo said at a press conference late Monday. 

President Alejandro Giammattei on Tuesday promised an orderly and transparent transition, and said a first meeting with elected authorities will be held next week. Giammattei said he has called on the Organization of American States to witness the transfer of power.

Arévalo called on Attorney General Porras to resign because of what he described as her efforts to prevent him from running in the election and taking office by pressuring the electoral body to suspend the Seed Movement.

A spokesman for the attorney general’s office denied that prosecutors pressured election officials to suspend the Seed Movement. He said Porras’s resignation isn’t a possibility as the attorney general has met all constitutional requirements for the position and that she has attained significant results. 

In 2022, the U.S. banned Porras and her immediate family from entering the U.S. because it found that she had undermined anticorruption inquiries to protect political allies and had fired prosecutors who pursued corruption cases. She has said that the sanctions against her were politically driven and denies having aided corrupt officials. 

“We know that we are receiving a state that is semi-destroyed by decades of corruption,” Arévalo told a local radio station. His victory was marked by growing unrest over widespread poverty, rising graft and weak rule of law, factors that drive tens of thousands of Guatemalan migrants to the U.S. each year. Journalists critical of the current government have also been prosecuted

Claudia González, a former prosecutor who served on a U.N.-sponsored antigraft commission, has been detained by the Guatemalan attorney general’s office. Photo: johan ordonez/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images
Claudia González, a former prosecutor who served on a U.N.-sponsored antigraft commission, has been detained by the Guatemalan attorney general’s office. (Johan ordonez/AFP)

“What we’re seeing is a concerted effort to abuse the justice system to ensure impunity for corruption and persecute whoever dares to investigate,” said Juan Pappier, the acting deputy director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, an advocacy group. 

On Monday, the attorney general’s office detained Claudia González, a renowned former prosecutor who served on a United Nations-sponsored antigraft commission set up in 2007 that exposed corruption scandals, on grounds that she abused her authority. The U.N.-sponsored commission was expelled from the country by former president Jimmy Morales in 2019. Following the commission’s expulsion, Porras investigated or arrested more than 30 Guatemalan prosecutors and judges who had worked closely with the agency.

Brian Nichols, the State Department’s senior official for Latin America, said that Monday’s actions against González and other individuals were unacceptable. “We condemn this blatant weaponization of the justice system,” he said Monday on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Write to Santiago Pérez at santiago.perez@wsj.com

wsj.com 08 29 2023

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