Guatemalan prosecutors have launched a direct attack on President-elect Bernardo Arévalo, the latest of several flagrant attempts by corruption networks to block his path to power as the country’s democracy reaches a breaking point.
Speaking at a press conference on November 16, prosecutors called for Arévalo, Vice President-elect Karin Herrera, and three members of their political party, the Seed Movement (Movimiento Semilla), to be stripped of their political immunity as part of a criminal investigation into protests held at Guatemala’s University of San Carlos between 2022 and 2023. Prosecutors said Arévalo and the Semilla politicians, alongside politicians from other parties, leveraged the protests to boost their political platform prior to the 2023 general elections.
The announcement followed a series of raids linked to the case, during which the Attorney General’s Office arrested other members of the Semilla party, including a congressional candidate from the 2023 elections.
Prosecutors have yet to provide a detailed explanation of Arévalo’s alleged involvement in the case. But they pointed to his use of social media as evidence of participation in the protests, which the Attorney General’s Office claims amounted to the illegal occupation of the university’s campus.
“Using his accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks, [Arévalo] began advocating for the occupation of the university,” said lead prosecutor Saúl Sánchez.
If upheld, the Attorney General’s Office request would leave Arévalo exposed to arrest, potentially burying his presidency before it begins. Arévalo and Herrera are set to take power in January 2024.
An anti-corruption campaigner, Arévalo shocked Guatemala’s deeply entrenched conservative political establishment by unexpectedly reaching a presidential run-off following the first round of votes in June. Prosecutors linked to corruption have since hounded Semilla, attempting to suspend the party on dubious grounds and raiding its headquarters. But they had until now fallen short of implicating the president-elect in a criminal case.
Arévalo won the August run-off by a landslide despite the attacks on his party.
InSight Crime Analysis
The move follows months of speculation about whether corruption networks would overturn the elections. These groups are now moving in for the kill, and if they succeed in blocking a democratically-elected president, it could spell the end of Guatemala’s post-war democratic era.
“If they are stripped of immunity over a case as weak as the one presented by [prosecutors] today, it would signal the death of the rule of law,” said Edgar Ortiz Romero, a Guatemalan constitutional law expert. “It’s clear that the Attorney General’s Office is the most potent weapon against the elected president.”
Election interference has already plunged Guatemala into a deep political crisis, testing the resilience of institutions as corruption networks leveraged the court system and the Attorney General’s Office to make unsubstantiated claims of electoral fraud and launch a spurious investigation into the Semilla party. Public outrage morphed into nationwide protests and roadblocks in October, the likes of which have rarely been seen in Guatemala, and the continued attacks on Arévalo could fuel further tensions.
The latest attack on Semilla is also likely to enrage international partners and observers, particularly the United States, which has already sanctioned officials over alleged electoral interference and declared its support for “Guatemala’s peaceful political transition to President-elect Arévalo.”
The Organization of American States (OAS) has also called for a smooth transition of power, but international pressure has so far failed to put the brakes on those attempting to overturn the elections.
Corruption networks in Guatemala have spent years undermining institutions to avoid disruptions to a status quo of corruption and impunity. A key part of this effort centers on the country’s court system, which will decide whether or not Arévalo retains his political immunity.
A day before the prosecutors’ announcement, the Guatemalan congress elected a new crop of Supreme Court magistrates, many allegedly linked to corruption. The Supreme Court often rules on requests to strip public officials of political immunity.
What are your thoughts?
Click here to send InSight Crime your comments.
We encourage readers to copy and distribute our work for non-commercial purposes, with attribution to InSight Crime in the byline and links to the original at both the top and bottom of the article. Check the Creative Commons website for more details of how to share our work, and please send us an email if you use an article.