After ever more brazen moves by the country’s Public Ministry to undermine the presidential election results, Guatemalans are in the streets, risking their own safety for their democracy. Please read the news below and be ready to add your voice to those of the Guatemalans fighting for the most basic of rights.
Guatemalans Convoke National Strike
On October 2, thousands of Guatemalans began a national strike blocking major highways throughout the country and massing in front of the Public Ministry to protest flagrant efforts on the part of the Attorney General’s Office to undermine the results of the recent presidential election, including the confiscation on September 29 of hundreds of thousands of documents containing the election results. As of October 5, the strike continues, with 27 highways blocked. The protest, organized by the 48 Cantons of Totonicapán and the Indigenous authorities of Sololá and taken up by Indigenous authorities, taxi drivers, universities, students, and many others throughout the country, began with the blocking of at least 16 points on critical roads. The protesters are calling for the resignations of Attorney General Porras, prosecutor Rafael Curruchice, and Judge Fredy Orellana. The Ministry of the Interior has stated that, if necessary, the use of police force against demonstrators will be authorized. There are concerns of increasing civil unrest, especially after October 31, when the electoral process officially ends and the Public Ministry could attempt to cancel Semilla’s registration as a political party.
Public Ministry Raids TSE, Confiscates Ballot Boxes
On September 29, the Public Ministry’s Special Prosecutor’s Office on Impunity raided the installations of the Supreme Election Tribunal (TSE), forcibly seizing 125,000 documents and original records of the general elections. Accompanied by masked and armed National Civil Police Officers, Public Ministry officials loaded boxes filled with election results into trucks and drove them away in what President-elect Bernardo Arévalo is calling a slow-motion coup. TSE magistrates, according to video footage, attempted to prevent the Public Ministry agents from removing the boxes of tallies from the property. TSE Judge Blanca Alfaro reported that there was a physical confrontation between TSE judges and Public Ministry agents. In August, Public Ministry officials had also raided the TSE offices, disrupting the chain of custody of votes, opening boxes, and photographing the votes, reportedly to investigate a claim of electoral fraud they said was made by a private citizen. The election results had already been certified in favor of Arévalo, and the election observers documented no evidence of fraud or wrongdoing.
The Electoral Observation Mission of the Organization of American States in Guatemala expressed profound concern about the motivations, legality, and consequences of the TSE raids and confiscation of election materials. On September 29, the Mission in a statement said the raids were “carried out without due cause, violating the functions, independence and autonomy of the electoral body.” The Mission continued, “For the OAS/EOM, this permanent siege without grounds or clear motivation by the MP [Public Ministry] constitutes a political persecution reminiscent of those carried out by authoritarian regimes. An attack of this nature is unprecedented in electoral observations in recent decades and constitutes a shameful example for the hemisphere. The Public Prosecutor’s Office has chosen to ignore the numerous calls from the international community and its behavior violates democratic standards.” Corresponding court orders were not shown to the relevant TSE personnel, according to the Mission, constituting a serious violation of due process, as well as “an obvious abuse of power and a violation of constitutional rights and the law of political parties.”The Mission added, “With his irresponsible actions, Prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche is flagrantly violating the sovereignty of the Guatemalan people.” The Mission went on to say that “the actions of the Public Prosecutor’s Office are an intolerable violation of Guatemala’s Constitution (…)” that is “altering the constitutional order” and that there are no factors that cast doubt on the electoral results.
The Catholic Bishops Conference of Guatemala in a September 30 statement called this moment “the most difficult in thirty years in Guatemala,” pointing out that “the rule of law is being subverted.” The conference called on the Supreme Court to fulfill its duties and urged the Constitutional Court to make a pronouncement, given the extreme violation of the constitutional order.
Assistant Secretary of State Brian A. Nichols condemned the raid in a tweet and said, “We will pursue accountability for those who participate in efforts to undermine the democratic transition to President-elect Arévalo.” Matthew Miller, Spokesman for the Department of State, stated that visas would be denied for individuals implicated in efforts to obstruct the democratic process. Attorney General Consuelo Porras, Prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche, and Judge Fredy Orellana already are under such restrictions, along with a number of other Guatemalans on the Engel List, and this measure has not had any corrective effect.
The European Union in a statement expressed deep concern “over the continuing and persistent attempts to undermine these election results through selective and arbitrary legal and procedural actions that are not in line with Guatemala’s constitution nor with the international and regional standards that Guatemala has subscribed to.” The EU said it “remains fully committed to support inclusive and sustainable development in the country” and “stands ready to work closely with the administration of President-elect Arévalo on these and other shared priorities like the promotion of democratic governance and the rule of law, when he takes office in January 2024.”
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk also expressed “deep concern at the sustained measures, including actions by judicial authorities, which appear to be taken to undermine the outcome of the electoral process in Guatemala.” He noted that this was the fourth raid of the TSE headquarters in the post-electoral context and said “[t]here are serious concerns over the compatibility of these actions with international human rights law, as well as with the Guatemalan Constitution and national legislation.”
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in an October 4 communique referred to the confiscation of documents a “theft” and urged the State of Guatemala to “respect the outcomes of the general elections and cease the actions of the Public Prosecutor’s Office that jeopardize the constitutional order and the independence of the branches of government.” The IACHR noted that a number of situations point to the progressive deterioration of democratic institutions, the rule of law, and the human rights situation in Guatemala. These include “continual interference in the electoral process in the form of interpretations of regulations and practices that effectively prevented individuals and political parties from taking part in the elections, the delay of more than two weeks in announcing the results of the first round of the elections, [and] the attempt to suspend the registration as a legal entity of the Semilla Movement to prevent its members from being awarded public positions and the raid on its headquarters. Other matters of concern include the issuing of an arrest warrant against an official of the Citizen Registry at the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, raids and threats targeting judges of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, and the initiation of impeachment proceedings against them. There have also been threats to the life and physical integrity of Bernardo Arévalo de León and Karin Herrera Aguilar, the presidential ticket of the Semilla Movement, which resulted in the IACHR granting precautionary measures.”
Arévalo Travels to US to Meet with OAS, State Department and White House Officials
President-elect Arévalo met with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken on October 2, as well as with White House officials, to discuss how the United States can assist in facilitating a peaceful transition of power from current President Alejandro Giammettai to Arévalo on January 14. Secretary Blinken expressed concern about the situation in Guatemala. Arévalo reported, “We exchanged and reiterated our commitment to ensuring that democracy prevails and that respect for the vote of Guatemalans is guaranteed. We also committed to mutual collaboration in creating development opportunities for the country.” The US Department of State has condemned Guatemala Attorney General Consuelo Porras as “corrupt” and “undemocratic.”
Public Ministry Requests Removal of TSE Judges’ Immunity
On September 27, the Public Ministry filed a request with the Supreme Court asking that the judicial immunity of Supreme Electoral Tribunal judges be lifted so that the judges could be investigated for alleged irregularities in the funding and acquisition of the computer system that was used in the presidential election. The office gave as reasons for the request “the possible commission of the crimes of fraud, breach of duties and abuse of authority.” The request was filed by four incumbent Supreme Court judges, including Blanca Stalling, as well as several alternate magistrates. The effort to strip the TSE judges immunity and prosecute them is viewed as part of an ongoing effort by the Public Ministry to delegitimize President-elect Arévalo’s Semilla Party and his victory in the presidential election.
Corruption in the Courts:
Judge Ruano Flees into Exile
Former Judge Carlos Ruano, recognized by the United States as an anti-corruption champion, has fled into exile following persecution for his denunciation of Judge Blanca Stalling. He stated “I’ve been put in a high-risk situation, and I had no other option than to seek protection outside the country.” After Ruano denounced Stalling for pressuring him to give favorable treatment to her son in a corruption case, he resigned and made the decision to leave Guatemala to avoid criminalization and incarceration. After resigning, Ruano no longer has the protections and immunity that come with the judicial position, motivating his decision to leave the country. More than thirty judges and prosecutors have fled into exile since President Alejandro Giammattei took office. (See our September 15 update, on our blog, for more context on this and the news below.)
Attorney Claudia González Remanded to Pretrial Detention
After a month of detention following her arrest on August, Attorney Claudia González’s initial hearing has concluded; Judge Jimi Bremer ordered that González be remanded to pretrial detention. Guatemalan law allows for pretrial detention if there is a risk that the defendant will flee or obstruct the investigation. González is a respected attorney who was working on pivotal cases involving other criminalized attorneys and judges, including Virginia Laparra and Juan Francisco Sandoval, and she was former lead attorney for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. She is being persecuted by Judge Jimi Bremer for her work leading the case against Supreme Court Judge Blanca Stalling. González is being charged “abuse of authority”–a charge that can only be levied against public functionaries–despite the fact that she has never worked as a public official. González has filed three appeals. The prosecutor’s office will have three months to build their case against González. The persecution of Claudia González is the latest case in the ongoing harassment of anti-corruption prosecutors, which has been denounced internationally.
Hearings continue in the trial of soldiers accused of responsibility in the 2012 “Cumbre de Alaska” massacre
Nearly 11 years after seven peaceful, Indigenous protesters were shot and killed by Guatemalan soldiers and many more injured, hearings continue as the Public Ministry’s witnesses testified before the court. José David Ordóñez, the mayor of Chuculjuyup, placed the blame for the massacre on former President Otto Pérez Molina and former Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla, stating that the accused soldiers were only fulfilling orders from Molina and Bonilla. Retired General Arturo Urizar González testified that he received orders to support the National Civil Police at Kilometer 170, where the protest was taking place. He also told the court that on October 4, 2012, he received an order to form a security squad. This contradicts the defense’s stance that the police and military did not plan the massacre.
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and UNICEF call for humanitarian aid for thousands of migrants in Esquipulas
The city of Esquipulas, in the eastern department of Chiquimula, is overwhelmed by thousands of migrants en route to the United States, driven by insecurity and employment and economic difficulties. The city has a limited capacity to provide humanitarian aid to the migrants, whose numbers increased by 200 percent in June and July, compared to the start of 2023. From January to September of 2023, 400,000 migrants passed through the Darien Gap on their way to the United States, many passing through Guatemala. The migrants are mostly Venezuelan and Honduran, although IOM recently reports an increase in migrants from China, West Africa, Haiti, and Ecuador. Between April and August, 100,000 migrants passed through Esquipulas, 18 percent of whom were minors. IOM and UNICEF have deployed five mobile units to provide psychosocial support and primary care to the children, but their resources are overwhelmed.