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Latan Brief: Guatemalans vote next Sunday (June 19, 2023)

Guatemala’s presidential frontrunners: Edmond Mulet, Sandra Torres and Zury Ríos. © France 24
Guatemala’s presidential frontrunners: Edmond Mulet, Sandra Torres and Zury Ríos. (© France 24)

Guatemalans head to the polls next Sunday in a presidential election fraught with accusations of irregularities and in the midst of a crackdown on anti-corruption judicial actors and attacks on press freedom.

No candidate, of the more than 20 who were allowed to run, is expected to obtain a majority. Polls point to a runoff between two of the three frontrunners: former first lady Sandra Torres, conservative career diplomat Edmond Mulet and right-winger Zury Rios. (El PaísReuters)

France 24 profiles the three frontrunners.

Though desperately desired by many Guatemalans, “change is not on the ballot,” writes James Bosworth in World Politics Review.

Voting is not obligatory in Guatemala, and experts are divided over whether irregularities, particularly the judicial blocking of three popular presidential candidates, will drive up abstentionism. In 2019 the abstention rate in the presidential elections was 37.8%, reports Prensa Libre.

Last week a Guatemalan court convicted journalist José Ruben Zamora to six years in jail, in a trial plagued with irregularities. (See last Thursday’s post.) But a day before Zamora’s conviction, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with President Alejandro Giammattei and the issue didn’t come up, reports El Faro. “The main international actors seem to walk on eggshells on the matter of Guatemala.”

More Guatemala

  • Guatemala City mayoral candidate Ninotchka Matute Rodríguez, of Movimiento Semilla, emerged in the race shortly after the criminalization of lawyer and municipal candidate Juan Francisco Solórzano Foppa disqualified him from the race. “Now, her candidacy and the movement she represents could rupture the sleeping powers of municipal politics and the urban status quo in Guatemala City,” reports Nacla.

Regional Relations

  • Canada announced it would support Haiti’s police, from a base in the neighboring Dominican Republic. (See Friday’s post.) But in a post on social media, DR Foreign Minister Roberto Alvarez said no deal been struck, adding that the Dominican government has not even discussed such a plan. (Reuters)

  • Some Haitians “viewed it as the latest example of a foreign government offering aid to Haiti but providing benefits to its neighbor next door,” reports the Miami Herald. Though “to be fair, a number of aid agencies, Haitian businesses and at least one diplomatic mission in the last year has quietly relocated to Santo Domingo due to the dire security situation in Port-au-Prince.”


  • “Haitians have less freedom of movement than most nationalities on Earth,” reports the Guardian.

  • Young Haitian men, particularly those with unusual looks, are often stopped for questioning by police — they must often appeal to the “commander in popular jargon, and to invoke his efforts to always live within the precepts of the law. This scene with which most young people can identify today is told in the song Kòmandan by rapper Loco Dahy,” reports the Haitian news collective DÈYÈ MÒN ENFO.


  • Canada’s Supreme Court ruled that the controversial “Safe Third Country Agreement” with the United States, that aims to control the flow of refugees across the shared border is constitutional, ending a lengthy legal challenge by advocacy groups who argue the deal violates the rights of asylum seekers. (Guardian)

  • “Venezuelans seeking asylum abroad nearly tripled in 2022… (and) more than two in five new asylum applicants globally last year came from Latin America and the Caribbean,” reports Reuters, citing UNHCR’s new Global Trends report. (Via Americas Migration Brief)

  • A new OECD report finds that immigrants work longer hours than natives in countries such as Colombia and Costa Rica, among other findings. (Americas Migration Brief)

  • Remittances in Latin America have an “upward trajectory,” with Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Brazil exhibiting particular growth, reports VOA, citing a new World Bank report. (Via Americas Migration Brief)

  • Reports last week about a German company offering adventure tourism packages for the deadly Darien Gap elicited a firestorm of criticism. (See Friday’s briefs.) But the situation was misrepresented, according to Pirate Wire Services, most of the European companies in question “have been operating for decades, and none offer tours anywhere near migrant corridors.”

  • Mexican transgender activist Susana ‘Susy’ Barrales runs a migrant shelter in Tijuana that has become a destination for trans women fleeing persecution and looking for support and healthcare, reports the Guardian.


  • Colombian “President Gustavo Petro’s government – the first ever to make protection of social movement leaders a priority, at least rhetorically – has gone from struggling to embattled,” writes Forrest Hylton in the London Review of Books. “In 2022, Colombia tied with Syria for the highest number of internally displaced people in the world (6.8 million), notably in the departments with the highest Indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations; forced displacement reached a ten-year high. Murders of social movement leaders, many of them Indigenous or Afro-Colombian, continue unabated.”

  • For El País: “The so-called “government of change” is now being cornered by the same issues that have hindered so many previous administrations: the shadow of corruption, the fierce war between state institutions, and the dirty games played by career politicians.”

  • Germany returned two wooden masks of the indigenous Kogi community to Colombia but wearing the sacred artifacts in ceremonies may come with a health risk because they were treated with toxic pesticides during their time in German museums, reports the Guardian.


  • Brutal fights to control lucrative criminal economies have led specific provinces and cities across Latin America to have sky-high homicide rates, far above national averages. InSight Crime identifies five of the worst years for the most violent districts in the region and explores the reasons behind the violence.

Dominican Republic

  • “A series of large-scale drug raids across the Dominican Republic is now zooming in on smaller trafficking hotspots, just months after one of the country’s former top traffickers pleaded guilty in the United States,” reports InSight Crime.


  • At least 11 people were killed in Brazil’s Rio Grande do Sul state after an extra-tropical cyclone struck the region, causing torrential rains, reports Reuters.

  • “While linking climate change to a single flood event requires extensive scientific analysis, climate change, which is already causing heavier rainfall in many storms, is an increasingly important part of the mix,” reports the New York Times.


  • Buffeted by 114% annual inflation, the Argentine peso’s downfall is fueling a culinary boom in Buenos Aires, where the middle and upper classes are spending their pesos before they devalue by going out to eat more often, reports the New York Times.


  • An approximately 700-pound bronze Nazi eagle recovered from the German Graf Spee ship that sunk in the Rio de la Plata during World War II will be melted down and turned into a dove, announced President Luis Lacalle Pou, a move that he said would transform a symbol of “violence and war” into one of “peace and unity.” (New York Times)

Critter Corner

  • Kambo, a venomous frog secretion used in cleansing ceremonies by some Amazon Indigenous communities, has been implicated in deaths worldwide and experts are sounding the alarm, reports the Guardian.

Jordana Timerman / Latin America Daily Briefing

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