Sat Feb 24, 2024
February 24, 2024

Guatemala: Preparing the Resistance Against the Arévalo-Herrera Government

A Failed Institutional Coup

Between January 14 and 15, Bernardo Arévalo and Karin Herrera of the Semilla party took over the government of Guatemala. The formal ceremony of the transfer of power was delayed for almost 10 hours, not for technical reasons, but because the political forces allied with Alejandro Giammattei, known in Guatemala as the “corrupt pact,” tried until the last minute to prevent Arévalo and Herrera from becoming president and vice president.

By PT – Costa Rica

On January 14 and 15, the different forms of political crisis that Guatemala has been experiencing since the unexpected victory of the Semilla party in the first round of the elections in mid-2003 were made manifest.

On January 14, the outgoing congressional board, controlled by Giammattei and supported by an order from Judge Freddy Orellana, tried to prevent the formation of a new congressional board. Their goal was to prevent the new Congress from swearing in Arévalo and Herrera.

The maneuver involved leaving some UNE (2) and CABAL (1) deputies without credentials and declaring Semilla non-existent and its 23 deputies as independents, thus preventing them from gaining control of Congress. The maneuver failed because Semilla and its allies in Congress were able to regain their legal status and keep control of Congress, obtaining 92 votes out of 160 deputies. This Congress was the one that swore in Arévalo and Herrera at midnight, without the presence of Alejandro Giammattei.

The Forces that Acted on January 14

The boycott of the formation of the new congressional board was the last of many maneuvers that the “corrupt pact” has tried to use. This fraction of the oligarchy has used the judiciary, the Public Ministry, and a sector of the police to try to annul the first round of elections. This was undoubtedly an attempt to achieve an institutional coup d’état and the establishment of a Bonapartist and dictatorial regime in Guatemala, similar to those in El Salvador and Nicaragua. The names associated with this coup attempt are Consuelo Porras, Freddy Orellana, Rafael Currichiche, and Alejandro Giammattei.

Although this political gamble succeeded in weakening and deeply compromising the Arévalo-Herrera government, it did not achieve its coup objective. Three central factors combined to prevent it: 1) the popular and democratic mobilization of youth, women, and indigenous peoples, 2) the policy of U.S. and European imperialism to reject the coup and bet on “democratic stability,” and 3) the agreement of a section of the oligarchy to govern together with Arévalo.

Popular Mobilization

Of all the elements, the most decisive was the popular mobilization. Lasting 105 days with ups and downs, elements of the popular mobilization continued, reaching their peak in October 2023 with at least one hundred blockades throughout the country. The blockades were dismantled with a combination of police provocations, repression, and pressure from CACIF (the business union).

From then on, there was a decline in mobilizations, which continued in the form of vigils in front of the Public Ministry and other demonstrations; but the central element was the people, who never fully demobilized. The transfer of power, which is a formal ritual in bourgeois democracies, was possible because there was a popular mobilization “in situ” that deactivated the January 14 maneuver, broke through the police fences, put pressure on Parliament, and undoubtedly encouraged Semilla to confront the institutional coup prepared by Giamattei in Congress.

Today, the main task of the Social Democratic government of Arévalo is to deactivate the popular movement, so that it will not be an active factor in politics as it was over the past 105 days. It is essential that the left and the Guatemalan popular movement understand that any possibility of advancing in democratic and social measures depends on maintaining absolute independence from the government of Arévalo and Herrera, from the first moment on.

The Democratic Response

The other key element is geopolitical, and found in the attitude of U.S. and European imperialism and its institutions such as the UN and the OAS. Arévalo relied mainly on this support and not on the popular mobilization as his main ally. The United States and the European Union have three central focuses of attention: Ukraine, Gaza, and Yemen. All three represent deep political crises that are costing them millions of dollars, and it means that all of their attention is on foreign policy. While at the same time, in terms of domestic policy, the U.S. government is preparing for an election in which Joe Biden is behind in the polls.

The reason why the two imperialisms tolerated two dictatorships (El Salvador and Nicaragua), but did not accept an attempted coup in Guatemala, seems to be because it was too risky a gamble that could politically destabilize the entire region (Guatemala is the main country of the isthmus) and probably spill over into southern Mexico.

That is why the United States and the OAS were so adamant that the Arévalo-Herrera government be allowed to come to power. On January 10, at the meeting of the Permanent Council of the Organization of American States, Alejandro Giammattei stated, “A government (…) unilaterally and without allowing the possibility of defending itself against the accusations against it, dared to suspend the visas of more than 100 deputies of the Congress of the Republic, simply because they were doing their duty.” The following day, January 11, Brian A. Nichols, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, responded that “Under U.S. law, we have an obligation to sanction those who obstruct democracy or promote corruption. We have witnessed corrupt acts by a disturbing number of members of the Guatemalan Congress and have been compelled to act to promote Guatemala’s democratic transition.”

Through diplomatic pressure and personal sanctions against a few dozen politicians, the United States has tried to signal its disagreement with Giammattei’s efforts to remain in power, but that is as far as it would go. In colonial countries like those of Central America, the possibility of the triumph of an authoritarian coup requires the willingness of U.S. imperialism to encourage, tolerate, or conceal it. The political conditions for this did not exist at the time, but this does not mean that they will not occur in the future. It is not impossible that in a few months the Guatemalan right wing will attempt a soft coup similar to the one that ousted Castillo in Peru, which was applauded and tolerated throughout the continent. Imperialism does not care whether it works with dictatorships or bourgeois democracies, the only thing it is interested in is the best conditions for exploiting our peoples.

A Government with Elements of Class Conciliation

The third element, and the one that explains why imperialism and a sector of the Guatemalan oligarchy see the Arévalo-Herrera government as tolerable, is that it is a government with features of class collaboration that will allow them to try to calm mobilizations and popular indignation.

The Arévalo government has an indigenous minister, Labor Minister Miriam Roquel, and also has an ally in the Winaq-URNG deputy, Sonia Gutierrez Raguay, as part of the executive board of the new Congress. All of these figures are deeply integrated into the Guatemalan establishment, but they are “the left” in the eyes of the restive right. The cabinet also includes professional political personnel from the Semilla and independent sectors, giving an image of “renovation” and “technical professionalism.”

But the real tone of the government will be set by the ministers who come from the traditional political parties and the CACIF. For example, Carlos Ramiro Martínez Alvarado, Minister of Foreign Affairs, was part of Giammattei’s cabinet and has been part of several governments, ensuring that foreign policy does not deviate from the dictates of the U.S. State Department. Francisco Jiménez, Minister of the Interior, was part of Álvaro Colom’s cabinet in 2008.

But the two ministers linked to the powerful business union CACIF stand out. Jazmín de la Vega “was a congressman for the Partido de Avanzada Nacional (PAN) during the Álvaro Arzú administration, and is a professional member of the Cámara Guatemalteca de la Construcción, the construction union linked to CACIF”, (…) the next Minister of Energy and Mines [will be] Anayté Guardado, executive director of the influential Asociación de Generadores con Energía Renovable (AGER).This is a private, non-profit organization that brings together the main electricity producers, mostly hydroelectric” [1]. Anayté Guardado, as an agent of the large extractive companies, is responsible for continuing the policy of looting and plundering the wealth of the indigenous communities that have strongly opposed the hydroelectric and mining projects in Guatemala.  Miriam Roquel and Sonia Gutiérrez Ragua will have to ask the same indigenous communities to “trust the government of change.”

What Is to Be Done?

From the perspective of the International Workers League, the most important thing is to discuss this characterization of the new government and these perspectives with the youth vanguard, and the indigenous and popular sectors that have been the heart of the Guatemalan popular mobilization. We must make clear the need for a revolutionary program and a revolutionary party in Guatemala that will be able to orient the popular movement in its demands and avoid the deceptions of the new government of class conciliation.

The revolutionary program in Guatemala must begin with the convocation of a National Constituent Assembly. This is how we will be able to erase the old institutions and raise the need for agrarian reform with peasant and indigenous content, the defense of natural resources and public services, and the nationalization of Guatemala’s strategic companies.

[1] https://www.no-ficcion.com/projects/quienes-forman-el-gabinete-de-bernardo-arevalo

Check out our other content

Check out other tags:

Most Popular Articles