The emergence of Bernardo Arévalo de León has generated uncertainty among the elites that have traditionally held power in Guatemala. The sociologist, diplomat and progressive deputy, who won the elections on August 20 with a firm message against corruption and impunity, has promised to turn off the tap of public budgets to the elites who have fraudulently enriched themselves from the coffers of a State with great social deficiencies.
This has provoked movements by the representatives of that traditional politics who cling to power and who in these last elections have shown that they have the investigative and justice apparatus, as well as Congress, to try to stop an option that has the promise of campaign to go against the corruption that has permeated the Guatemalan State for years.
In a message to the population this Friday, Arévalo denounced an attempt at a “coup d’état” to prevent him from taking office next January. The president-elect directly pointed out Attorney General Consuelo Porras as the main executor and called for unity to defeat the “coup plotters.”
To assume power on January 14, the day scheduled for the investiture, and govern as Guatemalans decided at the polls, Arévalo will need the support of the economic, social, academic, professional and indigenous elites. Analysts consulted by EL PAÍS believe that these groups will have to undergo internal reconfiguration processes to define whether or not they support the dismantling of corruption networks.
In the opinion of the director of the Research Institute of Socio-Humanistic Sciences (ICESH) of the Rafael Landívar University, Úrsula Roldán, Arévalo becoming president with these conditions will be a commendable achievement. For him to be able to form a “strong Government,” she says, a repositioning of the elites will be necessary: either they are on the side of democracy or they maintain their economic benefits thanks to the co-option of institutions.
Images of prosecutor Consuelo Porras placed outside the headquarters of the Public Ministry, on August 25.Esteban Biba (EFE)
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Fear of attacks against Arévalo
Since his unexpected passage to the second round, Arévalo and the Semilla Movement began to notice, through judicial decisions, that their presence made the elites uncomfortable. The prosecutor’s office of Rafael Curruchiche, who has led several investigations against opponents and anti-corruption justice operators in exile and who, like Attorney General Porras, has been designated by the United States as a corrupt and undemocratic actor, opened an investigation against his party for the alleged falsification of signatures to form the political organization that emerged from the citizen mobilizations of 2015. Its leaders assure that it is a spurious and unfounded case, but the request led last week to the temporary suspension of the party in a decision deactivated this Sunday by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). But, given the opacity of the prosecutor’s office to substantiate its accusations and the timeliness of its actions, many citizens interpret this movement as a reaction by corrupt elites. “They want to kill Arévalo, they want to kill the party and stop it from growing,” says Mariana Rohrmoser, from the Citizen Front against Corruption.
The president-elect, on the other hand, is not only aware of potential attacks from the judicial sphere. The same night of August 20, when Arévalo was declared the winner of the second round along with his running mate, scientist Karin Herrera Aguilar, they were alerted about a plan to attack him, which led to the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights (IACHR) to grant them precautionary measures.
In the judicial sphere, after his victory, judicial actions increased to weaken the legitimacy of a party that promises to fight against corruption that, it is estimated, undermines 30% of the public budget. “We must return to democratic institutions. We have to refound the process that this corrupt political class kidnapped us,” he said in an interview with EL PAÍS before the second round.
But the task will not be easy, as demonstrated by the physical and judicial threats that his party has had to face since winning the elections. Looking ahead to January 14, the most extreme scenarios being considered these days in media gatherings point to the possibility of annulling the elections or the new Congress appointing a provisional ruler, a measure that, although unconstitutional, does not sound so crazy in the face of the countless judicial resolutions that have put Guatemala on the brink of what some analysts have called a technical “coup d’état.”
For Arévalo to assume power, “it is urgent to deactivate the threats, first to protect his life and that of his colleagues, and second, to deactivate the cancellation of the party,” says Úrsula Roldán, from ICESH, an advance party that, she says, comes from “ of the Public Ministry and some actors of the Judicial Branch who have misrepresented their functions.”
Arévalo and Karin Herrera at the press conference in which they denounced a “coup d’état in progress”, this Friday. Esteban Biba (EFE)
Last week, the Congress leadership—made up of allies of President Alejandro Giammattei—disowned the Semilla Movement bench and declared its deputies independent after the temporary suspension of the party by the TSE, although a few days later, on Saturday, the court issued a resolution that deactivates this suspension until October 31, when the electoral process concludes. The future of the party could be cleared by the Constitutional Court, where an appeal against the cancellation is being processed.
Deputy Mario Taracena, with four decades of political and parliamentary experience, considers that the lack of knowledge of the Semilla bench is a strategy of the ruling party and its allies to pressure the elected president to negotiate with them. “They are trying to soften Bernardo so that he understands that he has to go talk to Congress,” Taracena told ConCriterio.
“An alliance with the people”
Taracena’s public advice to the president-elect is not to make alliances with Congress because if he gives in “they will continue to extort him.” The deputy has publicly denounced bribe payments in exchange for the approval of laws or budget allocations, which later become pockets of corruption. Arévalo’s only possible alliance is with the people, Taracena concluded in the radio interview.
In addition to the support that Semilla received at the polls, different sectors of the population have begun to take a forceful stance of rejection towards those who threaten to prevent Arévalo from assuming the presidency. From campaigns on social networks, citizen protests and the collection of signatures, the population is also asking for the resignation of Consuelo Porras. This Friday, in a non-binding collective action, a group presented more than 100,000 digital signatures to request the departure of the attorney general who is blamed for the persecution of those who have fought against corruption in the Central American country.
Different actors in the international community and organizations that observed the elections, such as the Organization of American States and the European Union, have expressed their concern about attempts to curb the popular will and demand that a peaceful transition process be ensured. This Friday, in an extraordinary meeting, the OAS Permanent Council declared its concern about the actions of the Public Ministry that intimidate electoral officials and volunteers and about the threats towards elected officials and their families. The concert of the ambassadors before that organization spoke unanimously in defense of democracy and made “a call to the legislative, executive and judicial institutions to respect and guarantee the civil and political rights protected by the American Convention on Human Rights in order to to avoid interference in the presidential transition process.”
Luis Almagro in the session in which the OAS resolved that its secretary general must meet with representatives of the Guatemalan Public Ministry, on September 1. Lenin Nolly (EFE)
And the business chambers have also spoken out. The National Business Council, which brings together about a hundred companies that, according to its president, Rodrigo Salguero, have managed to establish themselves without being part of the corruption mechanisms, was the first of the groups to ask that the popular will and the Porras resignation. “A healthy economy cannot be built when the entity designated for criminal prosecution tries to delegitimize the citizen will expressed at the polls,” they expressed in a statement on August 29.
The business manager notes the wear and tear caused by the attacks by the prosecutor’s office and how the situation has an international impact. “You can’t imagine how they see us on the Stock Market, on the boards of investment funds,” he says and anticipates the risks of democratic regression in the business environment. “If a judge and a prosecutor invent a case to remove the legal personality of a party, tomorrow they will do the same with my company,” Salguero said.
The responsibility of the elites
The traditional economic elite, represented in the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF), maintains a position of respect for institutions without assessing the intention of their actions to delegitimize the party that won at the polls. In an interview with the newspaper Prensa Libre, the president of Cacif, Ignacio Lejárraga, called for achieving a governance consensus during the transition period, but did not go into further details of how to achieve it.
These issues become relevant in the context of the necessary recomposition of the elites that Roldán speaks of. “I believe that they are still waiting for a negotiation where they again want to keep an important part of the cooptation, without taking into account the international demand to modernize, which calls them to leave their economic success at the expense of a state. co-opted,” explains the researcher.
The Cacif has participation in the councils of more than 50 public institutions and until the 2019 elections had had a strong influence on the financing of political parties related to its economic policies. As in the employers’ association, Roldán believes that all sectors of the country—academia, indigenous peoples, civil society organizations, unions and professional associations—must have internal conversations to fulfill a role that responds to the demands that Citizens have already expressed at the polls about putting a stop to corruption.
That is the common point that must bring together all people, groups and elites between now and January, says Mariana Rohrmoser of the Citizen Front against Corruption, a civil organization that has been promoting anti-corruption pedagogy among youth and communities for five years. among other actions. “We have to unite and demand that the inauguration be respected,” says the lawyer.
Living in a country co-opted by corrupt elites is “draining and devastating,” says Rohrmoser. “We do not have a public transportation system or access to decent basic services, and those should be the priorities that the new Government should address,” but we have to take baby steps, he reflects.
For businessman Salguero, the first sign of change that Arévalo can give to citizens is the formation of an impeccable, professional and technical cabinet. The payroll is 60% complete, according to what the president-elect has said, but he guards it jealously. In the end, these officials will be his first line of containment against the scourge of corruption.
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