Guatemalan president-elect denounces ‘slow motion’ coup

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By LatAm Reports Editor

During a visit to the NPR offices in Washington, D.C., Guatemala’s president-elect Bernardo Arévalo shed light on the tumultuous political landscape in his country. Despite his simple arrival with minimal security and only two aides, his presence signified the grass-roots approach that characterized his presidential campaign.

Arévalo’s unexpected victory in the Guatemalan presidential election last summer, where he won by over 20 percentage points, was a major upset. The election process itself was fraught with irregularities, including the disqualification of three popular candidates by the electoral commission. These actions were criticized by Human Rights Watch as politically motivated and by an election monitoring group for causing significant damage to the electoral process.

Despite initially being underestimated by Guatemala’s ruling elite, Arévalo, who leads a party popular among young idealists, managed to make a significant impact. His interview at NPR revealed how his unexpected success in the election’s second round caught the elite off guard.

However, post-election, Arévalo’s journey to office has been hindered by legal and political challenges. The attorney general and certain courts in Guatemala have launched a concerted effort to prevent him from taking power, including suspending his party, initiating investigations, and forcefully seizing electoral materials from the headquarters of Guatemala’s electoral commission. This has led to widespread protests by Arévalo’s supporters, calling for the resignation of the attorney general.

Arévalo described these events as a “coup in slow motion.” He elaborated on this during his NPR interview, explaining that unlike the overt military coups of the 20th century, modern coups involve manipulating legal and judicial systems. This tactic, known as “lawfare,” aims to prevent elected officials from governing through selective and opportunistic legal actions, sometimes involving fabricated evidence.

Regarding the current President Alejandro Giammattei’s promise of a peaceful power transfer, Arévalo expressed skepticism. He noted that despite international pressure, Giammattei has not openly opposed the ongoing political persecution, casting doubt on his commitment to a smooth transition.