A year of surprises in Guatemala

A guest piece by Eduardo Hernández Recinos, Guatemala’s former Vice Minister for Foreign Affairs (2020-2022)

On January 20, Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (the TSE) fired the starting pistol for the country’s 2023 elections. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were all in for a bumpy race, and the finish line still isn’t entirely clear.

First, the TSE kept us guessing by disqualifying various parties: one for missing paperwork, another for starting its campaign early, and a third for anomalies around its board.

Then when we went to the polls on June 25, we got our second surprise: the Seed Movement led by Bernardo Arévalo, the son of Guatemala’s first democratically elected president (1945-51), came from nowhere to win second place (a former first lady came first).

So, as in every other recent election, we were headed to a run-off.

But in the meantime, we got our third big surprise: the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity (FECI) released a video arguing there’d been corruption in the Seed Movement, including registering party members who were dead, non-existent, or unaware.

The FECI traditionally had no formal role in the electoral process but, in this unprecedented move, it was using Guatemala’s Law Against Organized Crime to insert itself. It tried to suspend the Seed Movement ahead of the run-off election, but the TSE intervened.

So we went to the polls for the run-off election on 20 August, and got our 4th surprise: running on an anti-corruption platform, Arévalo and his Seed Movement ended up winning in a landslide with 58%.

The international community backed the results and condemned the “abusive use” of the law to undermine Guatemala’s democracy.

And it seems the majority of Guatemalans agree: they made this clear on election day when they delivered Arévalo’s remarkable victory, despite the FECI’s attempts to disqualify him.

So we’re now in a transition period before president-elect Arévalo takes office on January 14, 2024. But the FECI and its associated prosecutors, backed by members of Guatemala’s establishment, haven’t given up.

We’re a polarised country right now. So there may be more surprises ahead.

Intrigue’s take: Eduardo and our managing editor (Jeremy) have known each other since they were both junior diplomats serving in Mexico City. Jeremy has fond memories of hitting up a legendary taco bar (El Farolito) with Eduardo to celebrate a diplomatic win in 2011.

Eduardo went on to rise rapidly through Guatemala’s diplomatic service, being appointed vice minister in 2020. So maybe one lesson here is that, if someone invites you for tacos, just say yes. They might be vice minister one day. We’re grateful Eduardo shared his perspectives with us.

Also worth noting:

  • Speaking at the UN General Assembly in New York yesterday (Tuesday), Guatemala’s outgoing president pushed back on “unnecessary international involvement”, and vowed to “hand over power to the person who was elected in the elections”.
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