Only a democratic mobilization can prevent a new authoritarian setback.
Guatemala is Central America’s most important economy. With 17 million inhabitants and nearly 2.5 million migrants in the United States , Guatemala has been a key country in regional political processes since colonial times. Twentieth-century authoritarian and capitalist modernization had its origin in Guatemala. On the other hand, many of the social victories that have persisted in Central America are an echo of the conquests of the Revolution of 1944-1954.
The elections and their context
On June 25, elections were held in Guatemala with 9 million people registered to elect president and vice-president, 160 deputies, 340 municipal corporations, and 20 deputies to the Central American Parliament.
The electoral process took place in the midst of strong attacks on democratic freedoms including the banning of three presidential candidates from running. These include the candidates for Movement for the Liberation of the People (MLP) headed by Telma Cabrera and Jordán Rodas (a former Human Rights prosecutor) and the candidacies of Roberto Arzú García of the Podemos Party and the businessman Carlos Pineda of the Citizen Prosperity Party.
Within the context of the regime’s increasing Bonapartist features, the country has seen a number of notable setbacks on several fronts including the fight against corruption and the loss of university autonomy at the University of San Carlos . In addition, the newspaper “El Periódico” was closed and the journalist Rubén Zamora was sentenced to six years in prison. As the BBC reported, “about 40 justice officials working on corruption-related cases and a score of journalists investigating them ended up arrested or else chose to leave Guatemala to avoid jail.”
The state’s Bonapartist features are also evident in the following cases, which are part of a larger reactionary trend in response to the 2015 “spring of the people” popular mobilization that threw former retired general and member of the Patriot Party, Otto Perez Molina, out of government. The popular mobilization began as an eruption of social discontent from sectors of the population who were fed up with the status quo. The uprising opened space in the midst of the “institutional and democratic makeup” that the CICIG (International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala) was trying to achieve. Jimmy Morales and Alejandro Giammattei are both political responses to a sector of the Guatemalan economic, political, judicial, and cultural elite that does not want the country to be democratized in even the slightest way.
The elections launched an unexpected result for this sector of the Guatemalan oligarchy and were, therefore, a distorted reflection of a population fed up with the “corrupt pact” and with Giammattei’s authoritarianism. The election results were marked by a 40% rate of abstention, 17% null votes, and 7% blank votes, which is to say that a large sector of the population engaged in a passive and active protest of the elections.
The first place was won by Sandra Torres, a traditional politician who received 15% of the vote. And to much surprise the Semilla Movement, led by Bernardo Arévalo, took second place obtaining 12% of the vote and with strong support in the cities and among the middle classes. Nobody expected the rise of Semilla, which left out several important right-wing parties including the party of Zury Ríos, who is the daughter of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt.
The social democratic Semilla movement emerged in 2015, spearheaded by a group of intellectuals and professionals who wanted to give political shape to the popular mobilizations against Otto Pérez Molina. The well-known intellectuals Edelberto Torres Rivas and Bernardo Arévalo were two of its central figures. In these elections, Semilla managed to displace other “progressive” parties such as the former URNG-MAIZ and the outlawed MLP as an electoral alternative.
The machinery of the institutional coup d’état is set in motion
The Guatemalan oligarchy does not accept any type of democratization and has challenged the elections. The Constitutional Court (the highest court in the country) controlled by the traditional right-wing parties has ordered the TSE (Supreme Electoral Tribunal) to suspend the official certification of the electoral results. The objectives are clear: to prevent Arevalo from going to the second round, since he will surely win the elections or to weaken him and “steal” some of his party’s 23 deputies.
This authoritarian move, which resembles the Honduran coup of 2009, is clearly an attempt by Guatemalan elites to control the outcome of the elections. While U.S. imperialism, which has supported all the coups in Guatemala and Central America, has attempted to distinguish itself from the authoritarian impulse of its Guatemalan partners. The State Department communicated on July 2, “The United States supports the constitutional right of Guatemalans to choose their leaders through free and fair elections, and is deeply concerned about efforts to interfere in the outcome of the June 25 elections.” The Organization of American States demanded on July 12 “respect for the popular will expressed by the Guatemalan people on June 25.”
U.S. imperialism, as well as CACIF (Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial Industrial, and Financial Associations), the powerful Guatemalan business union, are against the election theft and the outlawing of the Semilla party. This is not because of either’s “democratic will,” as both have enriched themselves in the shadow of dictatorships and the “corrupt pact,” but because they prioritize the stability of Guatemala and the broader region. The political destabilization of Guatemala could mean the destabilization of the whole region, and this would make it impossible for the Guatemalan police to serve as “border guards” for the United States. A triumphant democratic mobilization in Guatemala would encourage the struggle of the Nicaraguans and Salvadorans against their own dictatorships, as well as the defense of the democratic freedoms that are under attack in Costa Rica and Honduras. In other words, the U.S. does not want a powder keg in the heart of Central America, which could even reach into their own hinterland thanks to the millions of Central American migrants currently living there.
The Guatemalan popular movement should not be confused with the democratic siren songs of imperialism, as happened in Honduras. The U.S. “opposition” to election interference is only a means of covering its own interest in supporting a coup that would let it do “business as usual.”
The institutional coup d’état has had two major moves. The first was to challenge the elections before the TSE, which did not succeed. Finally, due to popular mobilizations and pressure from world governments, the TSE had to make the results official and allow Sandra Torres and Bernardo Árevalo to go on to the second round. But immediately the corrupt machine in the hands of elites issued a second blow by using the Attorney General’s Office and judges to try to outlaw the Semilla movement.
What is to be done now?
Those of us issuing this statement are political parties that defend socialism with workers’ democracy as an alternative. We do not share Semilla’s moderate program of reforms. Central America needs a great popular transformation, beginning with its unification and continuing with the unfinished programs of the revolutions of 1944 and 1979 including agrarian reform, nationalization of the means of production, the separation of Church and State, educational, urban, and health reform, and the full integration of indigenous peoples who have been systematically marginalized.
Now it is evident that at this moment the eyes of the popular movement in all of Central America should be on guaranteeing democratic freedoms in Guatemala. It should be on guaranteeing the right of Guatemalans to elect the president they want, and it seems that for the majority that president is Arevalo.
There is no way to defend these democratic freedoms if not through an extensive popular mobilization that dismantles the corrupt structures such as the Attorney General’s Office, the TSE, judges, police, etc. The ability to avoid a coup d’état also implies the necessity of opening the way for a Plurinational Constituent Assembly to re-found Guatemala.
Workers Party – Costa Rica
Socialist Workers Party – Honduras
Working Class Platform – El Salvador
Sections of the International League of Workers – Fourth International
”Telma Cabrera, indigenous leader of the Comité de Desarrollo Campesino (CODECA) was a presidential candidate for the MLP in 2019, came in fourth place with 10% of the vote and won in three mostly indigenous constituencies.” See https://nuso.org/articulo/Guatemala-elecciones/
 Pacto de corruptos is what in Guatemala is called the set of networks, parties, etc. that are used to carry out crimes and guarantee impunity.
 Sandra Torres concentrates in her the anti-political vote, despite having passed to the second round in two occasions she was defeated by Jimmy Morales and Alejandro Giammattei. It would be assumed that anyone who makes it to the second round could defeat her.