In Guatemala, the multiple evictions of presidential favorites are causing trouble

Carlos Pineda, upon his arrival at the Constitutional Court of Guatemala, on May 20, 2023, in Guatemala City.

The list of serious contenders for power continues to shrink in Guatemala. One month before the first round of the presidential election, the last person left out of the race is Carlos Pineda (right), whose candidacy was “suspended”Friday, May 26, by justice and the Superior Electoral Court (TSE) at the request of a competing party which invoked irregularities in the procedure.

“Corruption won, Guatemala lost”, commented on his Twitter account the one who was the favorite in the polls, after the judgment of the Constitutional Court which considered his appeal “not applicable”. This judgment should become final in the coming days. The ousted candidate then joined dozens of his supporters who demonstrated outside the seat of the Court.

The 51-year-old businessman was placed in the lead in the latest poll published by the daily Free Presswith 23.1% of the voting intentions, ahead of 67-year-old Social Democrat and former first lady Sandra Torres (19.5%), former UN official Edmond Mulet, 72 (center, 10 ,1%), and Zury Rios, the 55-year-old daughter of a former dictator (conservative right, 9.2%).

In total, twenty-two candidates remain in the running for the presidential election. This number, usual in Guatemala, virtually prevents any chance of election in the first round, June 25, since the winner must obtain more than half of the votes. The second round is scheduled for August 20.

Candidates co-opted by the ruling elites

Before Mr. Pineda, the TSE had already eliminated two serious candidates: Thelma Cabrera (left, 52 years old), from the Mayan indigenous peoples who constitute at least 40% of the population, and Roberto Arzu (right, 53 years old), son of former President Alvaro Arzu, in power from 1996 to 2000.

“Unfortunately, there are not enough of us to change the course of this country”lamented on Twitter Mr. Pineda, who thanked his supporters and encouraged them to “beat, to participate and to [s’]involve in the problems of the nation”.

Guatemala’s 9.3 million voters will be called upon to appoint, for a single four-year term, the successor to the right-wing president, Alejandro Giammattei, 67 years old. The latter, who had promised during his election to “not to be another son of a bitch”leaves office with 75% unfavorable opinions, according to another poll published by Free Press.

For analysts and ousted personalities, there is no doubt that the « fraud » does not lie in the manipulation of the results of the ballot, but consists in imposing candidates co-opted by the ruling elites. The eviction of candidates by the courts puts “in danger (…) the rule of law, democracy, guarantees and freedoms of the entire population”denounces, to Agence France-Presse (AFP), Edie Cux, the director of Citizen Action, local version of the anti-corruption NGO Transparency International. “There is a preconceived plan for [désigner] the candidates, by removing those who are embarrassing and keeping those who have the favors of the system”he explains.

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The state uses “judicial structure” to commit a new form of “election fraud” by the exclusion of candidates, adds Jordan Rodas. Himself, who was running for the vice-presidency of Mme Cabrera, was dismissed on corruption charges and all of his appeals were dismissed.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers Guatemala steps up crackdown on anti-corruption magistrates

“We see the president move his pawns”

For many analysts, the country has been experiencing a democratic setback since the early termination in 2019 of the UN anti-corruption mission CICIG, on the orders of former President Jimmy Morales (2016-2020), who was himself in his collimator. The CICIG had brought to light resounding cases of corruption, even leading to the resignation in 2015 of President Otto Pérez. Since Mr. Giammattei came to power, several anti-corruption prosecutors who had worked with the UN mission have been arrested.

On Friday, the former head of the anti-corruption prosecution, Stuardo Campos, was arrested. He denounced an accusation “fallacious” for an alleged “abuse of authority”. The magistrate thus joins the other prosecutors prosecuted after having fought corruption in this Central American country.

The prosecution is placed under the authority of the Attorney General, Consuelo Porras, a close friend of President Giammattei, herself included by the United States on a list of corrupt personalities. Mr. Campos had been dismissed in 2021 from his post by Porras, and appointed to the prosecutor’s office in charge of the repression of the illegal trafficking of migrants, which had raised many criticisms.

Last year, the former head of the special prosecution against impunity (FECI, anti-corruption) in the department of Quetzaltenango (west), Virgina Laparra, was sentenced to four years in prison. Former FECI national-level head Juan Francisco Sandoval, who had opened a corruption investigation against President Giammattei, fled to the United States to escape prosecution after he was ousted in 2021.

The “dictatorship of a group [soudé] by economic interests, corruption and even organized crime” imposes its views, according to the former UN rapporteur for freedom of expression, Frank La Rue. He describes a political scene where “we see the director, the president, move his pawns. But what we don’t see is who is writing the script and who is financing the play.”.

Woe to those who try to penetrate the secrets of power: José Ruben Zamora, the founding director of the newspaper The newspaper, which has published numerous investigations into corruption cases, is accused of money laundering and blackmail. Imprisoned since July 29, 2022, he faces a sentence of six to twenty years in prison and his newspaper has been forced to close.

Read also: Article reserved for our subscribers In Guatemala, a new authoritarian drift against the press and justice

The World with AFP

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