NEW YORK – A network of faith-based and advocacy organizations has condemned recent efforts to interfere with Guatemala’s elections, and called on the international community to step up in support of transparency and fairness in the nation’s electoral process.
The statement follows days of turmoil in Guatemala after the nation’s top government prosecutors on July 13 raided the offices of the Guatemalan Supreme Electoral Tribunal – the nation’s electoral authority – hours after it certified the results of the first round of the presidential election.
The raid was the latest attempt to discredit progressive presidential candidate Bernardo Arévalo and his party, the Semilla, or “Seed,” after he garnered enough votes in last month’s election to force a runoff.
“The Root Causes Initiative praises the decision of the Guatemalan Supreme Electoral Tribunal to certify the results of the first round of national elections and urges all parties and government institutions to respect the run-off election on August 20,” the Root Causes Initiative said in a statement. “We condemn the attempt to illegally suspend the Semilla Party.”
Co-led by the El Paso based Hope Border Institute and Faith in Action International, the Root Causes Initiative is a network of faith-based and grassroots organizations and religious leaders from El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, and the United States working to resolve the underlying conditions forcing people to migrate from Central America.
The move to raid the offices of the Guatemalan Supreme Electoral Tribunal follows an announcement from special prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche – who’s leading the actions taken against Arévalo and his party – that a judge has agreed to suspend the legal status of the Semilla Party. Curruchiche has alleged that the party violated the law while gathering the necessary number of signatures, and the purpose of the raid was reportedly to seize related evidence.
The move to suspend the Semilla Party appears to violate Guatemalan law, which prohibits suspending political parties during an ongoing election. The U.S. State Department has previously accused Curruchiche and his boss, Attorney General Consuelo Porras, of obstructing corruption investigations in Guatemala. They are both on the government’s list of undemocratic actors.
Arévalo said at a news conference Thursday that the prosecutors’ actions are illegal, done to plant doubt in the party’s legitimacy and have a “clear political purpose.”
Arévalo, a progressive who campaigned on bringing change to the country and fighting corruption, was a surprise winner in the June 25 election. He garnered 11.7 percent of the vote, second to Conservative, and former first lady Sandra Torres, who garnered 15.8 percent of the votes. Torres is a member of the UNE party that holds the current majority in Guatemalan Congress, and is an ally of President Alejandro Giammattei.
Torres announced July 13 that she was suspending her campaign activities to demonstrate solidarity with the Semilla party and voters. The runoff election is scheduled for August 20.
The Root Causes Initiative stated that an attempt to overturn the election results, especially by the people who have demonstrated corrupt tendencies “would be a serious blow to democracy and human rights in Guatemala and Central America,” and would “provoke further suffering and social unrest.”
“The Guatemalan people and their civic and religious organizations are courageously defending their freedom and self-determination,” stated the Root Causes Initiative. “It is essential that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal maintains its autonomy and its steering role as established in the Electoral and Political Parties Law of Constitutional status.”
A statement on the election turmoil from the Guatemala Nonviolent Resistance Movement that was shared with Crux by Guatemalan Cardinal Álvaro Leonel Ramazzini, laments multiple aspects of the current election cycle in a country with an already fragile democracy, including the illegal elimination of four presidential candidates, the allowance of certain candidates to campaign in advance of others with unlimited financial resources, and attempts to alter the electoral process itself.
Of this latest attempt by Curruchiche, the organization called it a “technical coup d’état,” noting that it’s a clear attempt to “eliminate a candidate who is uncomfortable for them.”
“The action promoted by the [Public Ministry] once again violates the Constitutional and legal framework of Guatemalan democracy, with the aggravating factor that this time, it consummates a technical coup d’état, by irreversibly altering the electoral process,” the organization said.
The action has also been condemned by U.S. government officials. Matthew Miller, a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State said that the United States welcomes the certification of the first round of election results, but maintains its concern over the Public Ministry’s attempt to remove the legal status of the Semilla party during the election process.
“These actions put at risk the legitimacy of the electoral process at the core of Guatemala’s democracy, which should be advanced and upheld consistent with Guatemala’s constitution and the Inter-American Democratic Charter,” Miller said in a July 13 statement. “The will of the Guatemalan people, as expressed through the June 25 elections results, must be respected.”
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