Anyone who remembers the “spring of Guatemala” in 2015, when thousands of people —mostly young people— took to the streets to demand an end to corruption, might not believe what is happening in the country today.
At that time, the CICIG (International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala) was active, an entity originating from an agreement between the country and the United Nations. The aim was for international magistrates to provide support to the attorney general and the police in corruption investigations.
The result was the revelation of more than 120 cases. The most scandalous of them involved then-president Otto Pérez Molina, accused of embezzling public money. He ended up resigning under pressure from society and during an impeachment process.
Today, little remains of what appeared to be a democratic maturation of the country. Just over a month before the general elections (on June 25), Guatemala has been the target of sanctions and warnings due to the advances made by the current president, Alejandro Giammattei, against the institutions.
CICIG’s work was interrupted by its predecessor, Jimmy Morales. Since then, there have been irregular processes in the choice of magistrates and judges, a hard-line policy has been adopted against popular demonstrations and there is persecution of the independent press.
The most striking case was the arrest of journalist José Rubén Zamora, in July 2022. The newspaper he founded, elPeriodico, announced last week that it would close its doors because it could no longer withstand the politically motivated financial pressure.
Faced with society’s complaints about violence, which has been growing in the last three years, Giammattei revived the debate on the death penalty, which is in the Constitution but is not put into effect due to international treaties signed by the country.
In a scenario where the country has been impacted by the years of the coronavirus pandemic, is on the route of migration to the US and has become a refuge for “maras” (gangs) expelled from El Salvador, the deterioration of democracy is yet another bad news for the Guatemalans.
The June vote will be the most fragmented in terms of political parties. There will be 30 parties with candidates for the Presidency and Congress, surpassing the 2019 election, which had 28 parties. The fragility of the party system is notorious. Since the end of the civil war (1960-1996), the same party has never governed the country more than once and more than 100 acronyms have been created, with each election some appearing and others disappearing. In addition, three opposition candidates to the current government were eliminated by the electoral court, also under the strong influence of Giammattei.
In this context of institutional and political degradation, it is difficult to pick favorites. Unreliable polls show that no candidate today has more than 25% of the vote. Among those most likely to go to a second round in August are Zuri Ríos, former deputy and daughter of dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, former first lady Sandra Torres and former deputy and diplomat Edmond Molet.
Guatemala seems to follow the rest of Central America when it comes to authoritarian lines of government. Regarding the institutional advances of 2015, little seems to have been left behind.
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