The powerful political castes who were voted out of office are using all their remaining influence to make the handover to the newly elected President Bernardo Arévalo as rocky as possible. B. Arévalo describes this as a quietly approaching coup d’état. However, he receives a lot of support from the civilian population, including the indigenous Mayan movement, and also from the Organization of American States, the OAS, and the USA. This article describes the resistance that Bernardo Arévalo has to overcome and discusses the question of how Germany and the EU can support the democratization process in Guatemala.

Surprising everyone: Bernardo Arévalo lands in 2nd place in the first round of voting

The closer the elections in a country get, the more the tension intensifies. The presidential elections in Guatemala, which were held in the first round on June 25, 2023, were no different. But when the election results emerged on election night, everyone rubbed their eyes. Nobody had expected Bernardo Arévalo to move up to second place. In all previous election forecasts, only the well-known names, such as Zury Rios, the daughter of the former de facto head of state Efrain Rios Montt, appeared among the first-named candidates. And Sandra Torres, former First Lady of the country, was also expected to be among the first runners-up. It also achieved the 21% predicted in the polls, putting it in first place. However, candidate Bernardo Arévalo was the absolute surprise with the second most votes. He received 17% of the vote and therefore entered the run-off. Bernardo Arévalo ran for the left-liberal Movimiento Semilla party. The Semilla party was formed during the mass protests against the corrupt government of former General Otto Pérez in 2015. The candidate duo Bernardo Arévalo and Karin Herrera could now concentrate on the run-off election on August 20.

After the first round of voting, both the traditionally conservative oligarchy and its favorites in parliament and government had to think about how they would digest their looming loss of power. Bernardo Arévalo and the Semilla party had focused their election campaign on the fight against corruption and kept a low profile on issues such as private property and the foundations of the legal system. There is no doubt that they have managed to strike a chord with the majority of the electorate, who are tired of the unspeakable corruption and nepotism of the so-called Pact of the Corrupt under the current President A. Giammattei. Giammattei has not only inherited the legacy of corruption of his predecessor Jimmy Morales, he has surpassed it.

Judicial system positions itself against the election result

In this context, it should be emphasized that the judges of the Constitutional Court were newly elected two years ago. Until then, the Constitutional Court had been a clear expression of the liberal rule of law. Since the not uncontroversial new election, there are no longer any liberal judges in the Constitutional Court. At least one of the top 5 judges is on the US Magnitsky List (also known as the Angel List, or anti-corruption list). It is also depressing that the other high court, the Supreme Court, has not been re-elected by parliament in the last four years, which means that the interests of favoritism have also become entrenched there. To complete the canon of the questionable rule of law course under the Giammattei government, President A. Giammattei reappointed Attorney General Consuelo Porras in the spring after her first term, regardless of the fact that she is also on the Magnitsky list in the USA. This restructuring of the judicial system by the government and parliamentary majority has undermined the principles of the rule of law, which are one of the foundations of democracy in Guatemala.

Throughout the election process, the highest judges and the Attorney General’s Office played a consistently interest-driven role in favor of right-wing populist positions. There is no doubt that the public prosecutor’s office and the Supreme Court are acting with the political backing of the Pact of the Corrupt. The extensive silence of President A. Giammattei on the activities of these circles can be seen as an encouragement for the tripartite alliance of the Attorney General, her fellow prosecutor and Judge Fredy Orellana.

However, neither the Pact of the Corrupt nor the top echelons of the judiciary are willing to simply renounce their tempting power. The day before the first round of voting, special prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche announced on behalf of the Attorney General’s Office that proceedings had now been initiated against the Semilla party to revoke its status as a political party. Irregularities had been discovered in the signatures of the party’s founding. This accusation seems strange, as the party was admitted to the elections by the Supreme Electoral Court without any problems. However, this does not change the fact that the public prosecutor’s office is still intent on banning the Semilla party. It is no secret that the main reason for this is to make life as difficult as possible for the Semilla party and the now elected President Arévalo.

The intervention of the public prosecutor’s office, with which it confiscated ballot boxes in the Supreme Electoral Court with police intervention in order to check the correctness of the vote count, can also be placed in this motive situation. In other words, the public prosecutor’s office is taking action against the Supreme Electoral Court and this action is being ratified by the Supreme Court. In the meantime, the Supreme Electoral Court had also been threatened with impeachment. All the appeals from the EU, the USA, Colombia and Brazil, as well as the Organization of American States (OAS), could not really put a stop to the coup-like activities of the Pact of the Corrupt. However, the election process was closely monitored by the USA, the EU and the OAS, among others, so that the election results could not be changed retrospectively in this way. It is also important that the Supreme Electoral Court has played an unexpectedly independent role vis-à-vis the government, which is highly commendable. The conduct of the two chief public prosecutors and their judicial supporter also led to a sharp increase in pressure from the civilian population through road blockades and triggered solidarity with B. Arévalo.

The run-off election: Bernardo Arévalo wins by a landslide

Sandra Torres and Bernardo Arévalo now faced each other in the run-off. The populist and capricious Sandra Torres made many rather superficial promises, such as the Song of the Family made up of husband and wife, the creation of a maximum security prison, the creation of a Ministry of Religion and one for the Mayan indigenous population, in the belief that this would attract many votes from evangelicals and the Maya. Nevertheless, Sandra Torres has always been unpopular with a large part of the population, partly because she has acted as a majority procurer for government proposals in parliament over the past two years, including the respective budgets. Moreover, most voters did not like the polemics with which Bernardo Arévalo attacked them before the run-off. She questioned Arévalo’s citizenship because he was born in Uruguay. In fact, Bernardo Arévalo was born in exile as the son of Juan José Arévalo, the founder of the newly founded democratic Guatemala in 1944 and former president of the country. His father had to go into exile after the anti-reformist coup in 1954. During the election campaign, Bernardo Arévalo refrained from drawing Sandra Torres’ attention to her birth in Belice. The emphasis on the value of family was directed at Arévalo, as he had recently been at his lesbian daughter’s wedding, not only taking up his role as a family man, but also demonstrating his openness to rainbow families.

In the run-off election, B. Arévalo won with 58% of the vote, while Sandra Torres was far behind with only 37% (the rest were invalid votes). This victory was a renewed confirmation of the will of the voters against the prevailing corruption, to which Sandra Torres is rightly attributed. The vote of these many voters expresses their anger at the unpopular parliament and the current authoritarian government.

Road blockades by the civilian population against blockades by the judiciary

Now resentment is boiling over on Guatemala’s streets in the face of the questioning of the election results by the power circles surrounding the current government and the judiciary. The streets have been blocked for weeks, and civil society is demanding the resignation of Consuelo Porras and her right-hand man, Rafael Curruchiche, and the judge Fredy Orellana, who is assisting them and pandering to the two prosecutors. Remarkably, the Mayan population, in particular the so-called 48 cantons of Totonicapan, are at the forefront of the protest movement.

However, the pact of the corrupt has held together so far: Consuelo Porras refuses to resign and the Constitutional Court backs her up with a ruling that she cannot be removed from office, not even by the president.

Bernardo Arévalo demonstrates backbone in the face of pressure from the right-wing conservative Pact of the Corrupt . With his experience as former deputy foreign minister and former ambassador to Spain, he is more than just a political newcomer. First, however, he has to master the long phase of taking office from the end of August to mid-January. He can clearly rely on large sections of civil society, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference and large sections of the business community (with the exception of the large farmers’ associations), for whom respecting the will of the people in the elections is important for various reasons. The business community recently expressed this once again, even though they do not like the road blockades for economic reasons. Bernardo Arévalo and the Semilla party are opposed by the bloc of the corrupt in the executive and judiciary, which will remain in office even after taking office in January.

Even after taking office, the endurance test for democracy continues

President Bernardo Arévalo is associated with a great many hopes, even if not all of them will be fulfilled. If he can replace some of the members of the Pact of the Corrupt in top positions in the judiciary during his first year in office, and if he can achieve a significant increase in transparency in public administration and government policy, he will be able to retain the support of civil society. So far, he and his Semilla and alliance parties do not have a majority in parliament with 59 votes out of a total of 160 seats. But it is still possible that this share of the vote will increase. Apart from this, there are a number of decisions in a presidential democracy that can be made by presidential decree. It is reassuring that B. Arévalo’s team, which is currently negotiating the handover of office with government officials, tends to be younger people who do not come from the current narrow political sphere close to the government. One or the other of this team will become a minister. From Arévalo’s somewhat cautious hints so far, it is clear that he wants to use the scope for improvement: progress in the social and education programs is just as important to him as the reform of the dysfunctional land fund, compliance with the peace treaties and the political promotion of the indigenous Mayan population. Arévalo will be a ray of hope for the Central American region, where authoritarianism has made itself at home.

What can and must the EU and Germany do?

The change that is emerging with President Arévalo is also important for us. In foreign policy, sufficient and visible support at German and European level for the change in the Arévalo government, which will take office next January, is of crucial importance, as it can be assumed that the old power structures will place many, many obstacles in the way of the new president. The Federal Foreign Office could already invite President-elect Bernardo Arévalo to Germany as a sign of respect for the election results and international recognition of the Semilla party. Just as the US administration has already done. If this is difficult in terms of time, an invitation soon after the inauguration would be advantageous. A sufficiently visible presence of the Federal Foreign Office, in addition to the presence of the German Embassy, is recommended for the inauguration. At both German and EU level, sanctions should finally be imposed on individuals in Guatemala (entry visa restrictions, freezing of bank account balances of this group of people abroad), as is the case for Nicaragua or Russia. Since the public prosecutor C. Porras and her colleague R. Curruchiche are subject to these sanctions in the USA, they should be considered for this. The Semilla Party and the future government can be supported even more intensively through policy advice and programs to promote the rule of law, either bilaterally or together with the OAS Court of Human Rights (CIDH). The Ministry for Development Cooperation, BMZ, can use its influence to support German civil society organizations in their Guatemala projects in cooperation with the future government there, and to support programs within the framework of European development cooperation that focus more strongly on the deficits in the areas of economic planning, social and educational programs and the promotion of indigenous populations.


  • Albrecht Schwarzkopf

    Albrecht Schwarzkopf, born 1954, graduated from high school in 1974, graduated in economics in 1981, 1982 teaching assignments. 1983-84 scholarship holder at the INIAP Institute for Public Administration in Mexico City, 1985 work as a research assistant at the Department of Economics in Münster, 1986 to 2020 intermittent employment with the 'Christliche Initiative Romero e.V. (CIR) in various functions, for example as the person responsible for development projects in Central America and Guatemala in particular, human rights issues and also finances, 1995 employment with the UN mission to monitor the peace process in Guatemala, MINUGUA, 1998 work in Guatemala with the UN-led Truth Commission (Comisión de Esclarecimiento Histórico, CEH), which emerged from the peace treaties. From 2006 to 2015, as an NGO representative, founding member and executive board member of the 4C Association (Common Code for the Coffee Community Code of Conduct), for the development of and compliance with the coffee code of conduct for the sustainability of coffee farmers and the large European roasting companies.

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Guatemala: newly elected President Bernardo Arévalo in the fight for democracy and the rule of law

Albrecht Schwarzkopf

[wpml-string context="pb-bioinfo" name="info-6"]Albrecht Schwarzkopf, geb. 1954, Abitur 1974, Examen Diplomvolkswirt 1981, 1982 Lehrauträge. 1983-84 Stipendiat bei dem INIAP-Institut für Öffentliche Verwaltung in Mexiko-Stadt, 1985 Arbeit als wissenschaftliche Kraft am Fachbereich für Wirtschaftswissenschaften in Münster, 1986 bis 2020 mit Unterbrechungen Beschäftigung bei der 'Christliche Initiative Romero e.V. (CIR) in verschiedenen Funktionen, so als Verantwortlicher für Entwicklungsprojekte in Mittelamerika und insbesondere Guatemala, Menschenrechtsfragen und auch Finanzen, 1995 Anstellung bei der UN-Mission zur Überwachung des Friedensprozesses in Guatemala, MINUGUA, 1998 Arbeit in Guatemala bei der UN geleiteten, aus den Friedensverträgen hervorgegangenen Wahrheitskommission (Comisión de Esclarecimiento Histórico, CEH. Ab 2006 bis 2015 als NGO-Vertreter Gründungsmitglied und im geschäftsführenden Vorstand der 4C-Association (Common-Code-for-the-Coffee-Community-Verhaltenskodex), zur Erarbeitung und Einhaltung des Kaffeekodex für Nachhaltigkeit von Kaffeebäuer*innen und den großen europäischen Röstereien.[/wpml-string]

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