Guatemala’s political turmoil deepens as 1 candidate is targeted and another suspends campaign

A masked member of Guatemala's attorney general's office walks through a room of boxes while others look on.
A member of Guatemala’s attorney general’s office raids the headquarters of the country’s electoral authority Thursday, hours after it certified the results of the country’s June 25 election.
(Moises Castillo / Associated Press)
Share via

Guatemala sank deeper into political turmoil Thursday as prosecutors targeted a progressive presidential candidate who proved to be surprisingly popular, prompting his opponent to suspend her campaign, saying the playing field was no longer even.

The government’s actions against candidate Bernardo Arévalo — first suspending his Seed Movement party, then raiding the country’s election tribunal offices after it certified election results — sparked other objections as well, from within and outside Guatemala. U.S. officials called them a threat to the country’s democracy.

By Thursday afternoon, those actions appeared to have backfired. Candidates left and right warned the government to let the voters prevail — probably not what President Alejandro Giammattei expected when his administration decided to intervene in the June 25 election, which ended with Arévalo and conservative candidate Sandra Torres moving on to an Aug. 20 presidential runoff.

The Guatemala attorney general's office suspended the party of progressive presidential candidate Bernardo Arévalo.
The Guatemala attorney general’s office suspended the party of progressive presidential candidate Bernardo Arévalo.
(Moises Castillo / Associated Press)

Arévalo dismissed the government’s actions as illegal.

“What they are trying to do is simply plant doubt about our honesty,” he said at a news conference Thursday, adding that the raid and party’s suspension had a “clear political purpose.”

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal issued an angry statement declaring that it would safeguard Guatemala’s democracy in the face of “any attempt to interfere with the electoral process.”

Guatemala’s troubled presidential election is in more turmoil as the top electoral tribunal confirms results minutes after the progressive party was suspended.

July 12, 2023

Torres, whose UNE party has been a key force in allowing Giammattei to advance his legislative agenda, said she was halting her campaign activities to protest the government’s actions. It was likely that she realized Giammattei’s missteps could sink her own candidacy.


“We want to demonstrate our solidarity with the voters of the Seed party and also with those who came out to vote,” she said. “As a candidate, I want to compete under equal conditions.”

She called on the president to show his face.

Protestors gather outside the attorney general's office in Guatemala City.
Demonstrators gather outside the attorney general’s office in Guatemala City to protest its raid on the nation’s electoral authority and in favor of the results that called for a run-off presidential election.
(Moises Castillo / Associated Press)

Giammattei’s office issued a statement saying that it respects the separation of powers and would not be involved in any judicial processes.

Arévalo was a surprise winner in the June 25 election, garnering 11.7% of the votes. In the days before the vote, he had polled below 3% and was not among the top six or seven candidates, all of whom were considered to be on the conservative end of the political spectrum. Torres received 15.8% of the vote. No candidate came close to exceeding the 50% threshold necessary to win outright.

Fearing democracy is at risk, Guatemalans are posting certified election forms on social media to show there wasn’t fraud in the presidential vote.

July 6, 2023

A former diplomat and academic, Arévalo has framed himself as the candidate who would bring change to the country, while portraying Torres as someone who would probably maintain the status quo. He also promised to bring back prosecutors and judges who were crucial to the nation’s fight against corruption but were forced out of the country under Giammattei’s administration.

As the wait dragged on for certification of the election, anxiety grew that the government was looking for a way to change the results. First, several losing parties waged a legal challenge, leading Guatemala’s highest court to suspend the certification and order a review of hundreds of challenged polling place tallies. The review concluded with no change in the results.


Then late Wednesday, Rafael Curruchiche, the special prosecutor against impunity, announced the Seed Movement’s suspension, an action that appeared to violate Guatemala’s election laws, which prohibit suspending parties during an ongoing election. Curruchiche alleged that the party violated the law while gathering the signatures it needed to form.

The day began Thursday with prosecutors raiding the offices of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal just hours after it certified the election results.

Recent attacks on Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez are part of a broader campaign on Guatemala’s courts that have forced nearly two dozen judges and prosecutors into exile.

June 17, 2022

The attorney general’s office said Thursday that the purpose of the raid was to seize evidence from the office responsible for voter rolls and party registration. A raid was also expected to take place at the Seed Movement’s party headquarters Thursday.

The U.S. State Department had already accused Curruchiche and his boss, Atty. Gen. Consuelo Porras, of obstructing corruption investigations in Guatemala, and put them both on its list of undemocratic actors.

Department spokesman Matthew Miller said Thursday that the U.S. government was “deeply concerned” by the actions of the attorney general’s office, which he said threatened the legitimacy of the electoral process. “The will of the Guatemalan people, as expressed through the June 25 elections results, must be respected,” he said.