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Latam Brief: Guatemala’s Movimiento Semilla makes runoff (June 26, 2023)


A woman shows her ink-stained finger during the first round of Guatemala's presidential election in Guatemala City, Guatemala, June 25, 2023.
A woman shows her ink-stained finger during the first round of Guatemala’s presidential election in Guatemala City, Guatemala, June 25, 2023. (Cristina Chiquin/Reuters)

Guatemalans voted in general elections yesterday — preliminary results indicate a second round in August will be required for president, as none of the 22 tickets obtained more than 50%.

Rapid vote counts put former first lady Sandra Torres, for the conservative UNE party and Bernardo Arévalo, for the leftist Semilla Movement, in the lead — with 15.68% and 11.86%, respectively. (Prensa Libre)

Arévalo’s relatively strong showing is a surprise, his name had not been polling among the top three, but reflects a population angry with the political status quo and desiring change. Semilla did particularly well among urban voters yesterday. (ReutersInfobae)

Invalid ballots from a frustrated electorate led all the candidates, however, with 17.39%. Three top candidates — from both left and right, but all promising to disrupt Guatemala’s status quo — were barred from participating in the election, and called on their supporters to cast null ballots, reports the Associated Press.

However, the null votes fall far below the 50% threshold that would require redoing the elections under Guatemalan law, reports la Prensa Libre.

Tackling corruption is a key pillar of Semilla’s platform — a movement born in 2017 of Guatemala’s anti-corruption protests. Former attorney general and anti-corruption crusader Thelma Aldana was the movement’s presidential candidate in 2019, though she was ultimately prevented from running by electoral authorities.

In the midst of judicial persecution of anti-corruption actors in Guatemala, Arévalo said this morning that he is advised by prosecutors and judges who have been forced into exile. (Prensa Comunitaria Km 169)

Arévalo, nicknamed “Uncle Bernie” in Guatemalan politics, is the son of former President Juan José Arévalo Bermejo, considered one of the country’s most important democratic leaders.

Officials said voting was mostly calm, but there were reports of violence in the lead-up in the municipality of San José del Golfo, about 17 miles from Guatemala City. the Supreme Electoral Tribunal said voting had been canceled in the location due to disturbances, and that the town’s citizens will be able to vote Aug. 20 during the expected second round of presidential voting. (New York TimesAssociated PressEuronews)

And Prensa Libre reports of clashes in Puerto San José in Escuintla.


  • Last month I wrote about Central America’s authoritarian slide, for El Diplo, including Guatemala’s quashing of anti-corruption efforts and persecution of critical voices.

Argentina’s Peronists coalesce (mostly) behind Massa

Argentina’s ruling Frente de Todos coalition — now Unidad por la Patria in the current electoral cycle — did a last-minute swerve to coalesce behind Economy Minister Sergio Massa’s presidential bid, on Friday.

The move aims to maintain a unified front ahead of the presidential primaries in August that serve as an unofficial first round for the October vote. It’s a dramatic twist that reconfigures predictions in a heated election year.

Massa, who represents the Frente Renovación peronist movement, will run with former Defense Minister Agustín Rossi — displacing Vice President Cristina Fernández de Kircherner’s candidate, Interior Minister Eduardo “Wado” de Pedro and former Vice President Daniel Scioli, who unsuccessfully sought to force his way into the primary.

Massa, a pragmatic centrist, will face off against the winner of the Juntos por el Cambio opposition coalition’s primary: either the centrist Horacio Rodríguez Larreta, mayor of Buenos Aires, or the hawkish former Security Minister Patricia Bullrich. All contend with the popularity of libertarian outsider candidate Javier Milei, whose promises to burn the Central Bank have enamored portions of an electorate exhausted by economic hardship and intractable political infighting.

(ReutersLa Política OnlineInfobaeBloomberg)

“This closing of the lists was not chaotic and rushed by mistake or a lack of will. It was because it means the beginning of a still uncertain end process, which is the construction of a new incarnation of that multiform Proteus that is Peronism,” writes María Esperanza Casullo in Cenital.

Massa’s candidacy signals a shift in power within the Union por la Patria, and also a measure of polling real-politik. But coalition’s candidates for key congressional districts show the lasting kirchnerista power, and also include some important allies of President Alberto Fernández. (La Política Online)

Regional Relations

  • Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva urged the European Union and the Mercosur to set aside arrogance and negotiate the long-awaited trade agreement between the blocs with common sense, reports Reuters.

  • Lula promised to raise the issue of de-dollarization at the next BRICS meeting. (Bitcoin.com)

  • “Revelations” regarding Chinese “spy facilities” in Cuba, have the hallmarks of a classic conservative ploy to derail efforts to reduce tensions with U.S. foreign adversaries, argues William LeoGrande in Responsible Statecraft. “This is not the first time Cuba has been caught up in such machinations by battling factions in Washington’s foreign policy establishment.”


  • Remittances to Cuba are now fueling an explosion of capitalism on the communist island — facilitated by agencies, many in Miami, that have created a clever but complex system that is helping Cuban private entrepreneurs sidestep U.S. financial sanctions and buy abroad the supplies they need for their businesses on the island, reports the Miami Herald.

  • Private businesses, small and medium sized companies permitted in 2021, are now employing more people than state enterprises, gaining trust from foreign creditors and helping put food on Cubans’ tables at a time of widespread scarcity, reports the Miami Herald.

  • However, the private sector struggles limitations from the Cuban government, but also from U.S. sanctions. A Biden administration package of regulations that could strengthen the Cuban private sector remains stalled in Washington, “which seems like a lost opportunity to address a major factor pushing people to migrate to the United States,” argues John McIntire in Americas Quarterly.


  • A brief moment of economic growth in Venezuela is already faltering, due to lack of deep reforms. “While the recovery benefited the goods and services economy, productive sectors like agriculture, industries and hydrocarbons need financing,” explains Tony Frangie-Mawad in Americas Quarterly.

Culture Corner

  • Peruvian academic Roberto Zariquiey has engaged with Nelita Campos, the last lucid speaker of her Indigenous language, for over a decade — capturing as much as possible of her Iskonawa language and culture, reports the Washington Post.

  • The all-female Samba Que Elas Querem band is one of several groups challenging the inherent sexism of Brazil’s widely loved samba genre, drew widespread attention in 2018 after singing a feminist rewrite of the samba hit Mulheres, which is being challenged in court by the composer. (Guardian)

  • Esteban Volkov, the grandson of Leon Trotsky who devoted his final decades to

Jordana Timerman / Latin America Daily Briefing

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