NEW YORK – About a week before prosecutors in Guatemala announced they would seek charges against the country’s president-elect, Bernardo Arévalo, and the vice president-elect, Catholic leaders had urged U.S. government officials to help protect the nation’s democracy.

On Nov. 15, Guatemala’s Attorney General’s office formally requested that Arévalo, vice president-elect Karin Herrera and others be stripped of their immunity from prosecution for damages resulting from a 2022 protest at San Carlos University, the nation’s only public university.

The move was widely condemned as an effort to keep Arévalo from taking power in January. Arévalo, an anti-corruption candidate from the Seed Movement party, pulled off an unexpected landslide victory in the presidential election in August – a major blow to the country’s political and economic elite.

On Nov. 9 and 10, about a week before the attorney general’s office announcement, a Catholic delegation led by Bishop Mark Seitz of El Paso, Texas, and Cardinal Álvaro Ramazzini of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, met with the officials from the U.S. State Department, the office of Vice President Kamala Harris, and from the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States.

“In separate meetings, the cardinal and myself sought to inform them of the very tenuous situation presently in Guatemala, with many people in power apparently seeking ways to delegitimize the president-elect’s power to lead, and even potentially to prevent his inauguration,” Seitz told Crux of the meetings.

“We urged the government to find ways to support the democratic processes in Guatemala,” he said.

Seitz said that actions the government can take include public and private expressions of support for the legitimacy of the election of Arévalo and Herrera, and other members of the Seed Party, as well as leading members of the U.S. government attending their inauguration.

Seitz also noted that the United States should develop connections with people and organizations at the grassroots level “to understand how we in the United States can support just efforts to build a nation of peace and security.”

Ramazzini declined a Crux request for comment on the meetings, and the situation in Guatemala.

At the heart of prosecutors’ claims against Arévalo are that social media posts he made at the time of the protests at San Carlos University encouraged students to take over the university. It’s the latest in a number of attempts by the ruling elite to thwart Arévalo’s election, and inauguration.

In a Nov. 16 post to X, formerly Twitter, Arévalo called prosecutors actions “spurious and unacceptable.”

The U.S. State Department called the actions “brazen efforts to undermine Guatemala’s peaceful transition of power to President-elect Bernardo Arévalo.”

“These repeated and egregious anti-democratic acts undermine Guatemala’s democratic institutions and threaten the stability of Guatemala and the region as a whole,” reads a Nov. 16 State Department statement. “The Guatemalan people have spoken. Their voices must be respected.”

Issuing a similar sentiment, the U.S. Mission to the Organization of American States condemned the actions.

“These decisions by the Public Ministry constitute actions of a political nature that distort the electoral process and may affect its outcome and are therefore absolutely inappropriate and unacceptable for a democratic political system,” the organization said in a Nov. 16 statement.

The organization also adopted a resolution, cosponsored by delegations of Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, and Uruguay, entitled “Recent Developments Impacting the Rule of Law and Democratic Presidential Transition in Guatemala, where they affirm a commitment to upholding Guatemala’s democracy.

“The ongoing political persecution only serves to erode the foundations of the democracy that the citizens of Guatemala have fought for and wish to continue building every day,” the organization said.

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