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Guatemala in the streets and in the courts: a protest and a writ "for democracy"

The political crisis in Guatemala has sparked a series of protests across the country. Indigenous leaders, students, traders, the working class, and activists have taken to the streets demanding the resignation of Consuelo Porras, Rafael Curruchiche, and Freddy Orellana, whom they accuse of undermining democracy. Meanwhile, the amparo presented by Arévalo specifically seeks to invalidate all illegal and unconstitutional actions taken by the Seventh Criminal Court, in collusion with the Attorney General, the head of the Special Prosecutor's Office against Impunity (FECI), and prosecutors Cinthia Monterroso and Leonor Eugenia Morales Lazo. In addition to seeking the removal of these officials, Arévalo also requests that Porras, Curruchiche, and Orellana be ordered to refrain from taking measures that affect the integrity of the electoral process and the effectiveness of suffrage.

By Jairo Videa & Juan Daniel Treminio | @CoyunturaNic

Ciudad de Guatemala, Guatemala

In a day that will be remembered in Guatemala's political history, President-elect Bernardo Arévalo summoned hundreds of Guatemalans to file a writ of amparo before the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ). In a speech filled with emotion and a commitment to democracy, Arévalo, the leader of the political party Movimiento Semilla, once again denounced what he and his close associates consider an attempt at a "coup d'état" orchestrated by Attorney General Consuelo Porras and other officials from the Public Ministry (MP).

The afternoon of Monday, September 18, 2023, became a symbol of the struggle for democracy in the Central American country. Amid vuvuzelas, hugs, encounters, laughter, and slogans, Bernardo Arévalo, accompanied by his running mate, Vice President-elect Karin Herrera, and backed by an unprecedented crowd of citizens, marched to the CSJ headquarters in Guatemala City, in an unprecedented event in the nation's recent history.

Arévalo, who secured a landslide victory in the August 20 elections with the promise to combat corruption and restore confidence in Guatemalan institutions, arrived at the CSJ with a clear message: to defend democracy and the people's right to build a better future. "Judicial hitmen." "Resign." "They want to steal our spring." "With determination, the homeland will prevail." It was a spirited, noisy, and story-filled event.

"We are here, and we will continue to be here as long as life allows us. Because there is nothing more important than defending the future of our land and our people," said 75-year-old citizen Yuri Romero, who attended the Plaza de los Derechos Humanos in the Guatemalan capital alongside her husband. Despite their advanced age, they say they feel "happy to witness and be part of the change" led by Arévalo and Semilla.

In his speech to the crowd, the President-elect denounced the actions of the MP, led by Porras, as an attempt at a "coup d'état" that threatens Guatemala's democratic stability. Arévalo asserted that they are following the processes in accordance with Guatemalan law and resorting to all possible mechanisms to protect the rights of Guatemalans and restore peace in the country.

One of Arévalo's main concerns is the recent raid on the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) offices, where electoral boxes were opened. According to the President-elect, these actions cast doubt on and jeopardize the Guatemalan electoral process and undermine democracy by affecting the rights of citizens who expressed their will freely and sovereignly at the polls.

"We need a true rule of law," said Rodrigo Salguero, President of the National Business Council, who joined Arévalo, Herrera, and members of the Movimiento Semilla on the main stage this Monday.

The international community has also shown interest in the situation in Guatemala. Arévalo announced that he will meet again with the Secretary General of the Organization of American States (OAS) in the coming days, emphasizing that the OAS has expressed concern about what is happening in the country. The OAS is in the midst of strong tension with the Public Ministry because it has pointed out that the legal order is being violated, constituting a threat to democracy, leading the organization to act within the framework of the Inter-American Democratic Charter to examine the situation.

It is important to note that both Consuelo Porras, Rafael Curruchiche, and Fredy Orellana are included in a list compiled by the United States Department of State of "corrupt and antidemocratic" figures in Central America. This has increased pressure on Guatemalan authorities and generated widespread public support for Arévalo's denunciation.

With cell phones lighting up the day, hundreds of people repeatedly chanted in unison: "Consuelo, resign, your time is running out."

Hours before the filing of the writ, indigenous leaders, students, and other activists protested in several cities in Guatemala, demanding the resignation of Porras and other questionable prosecutors, as well as Judge Orellana. In the capital, hundreds of indigenous people from Totonicapán marched to demand the removal of the Attorney General. The demonstrations will continue throughout this week and the remaining days of September. There may even be road and airport closures, according to sources from this community speaking to the COYUNTURA team.

Bernardo Arévalo's rise to power has raised concerns among powerful political and business sectors due to his promise to confront corruption head-on. Last week, Rafael Curruchiche led a controversial raid at the Center for Electoral Process Operations (COPE) within the Parque de la Industria in Guatemala City, leading the U.S. to label it as "an attack on the democratic process".

The response from the MP was swift, categorically rejecting Arévalo's accusations of a "coup d'état" orchestrated from the institution. However, the President-elect insists that the MP's actions represent a threat to democracy and are designed to undermine the electoral process and its results.

"We have four months left (until the executive transition) of the fight. We will be here," said Arévalo. "Changing a country is a historic task," he added as the night fell on this Monday.

The writ presented by Arévalo and Herrera seeks the removal of Porras, Curruchiche, Monterroso, and Morales, as well as Judge Orellana. Additionally, they request that the CSJ orders Porras, Curruchiche, and Orellana to refrain from taking legal actions that could affect the integrity of the electoral process and the effectiveness of suffrage. It also calls for an investigation into the authorities accused of possible crimes against the constitutional order.

The crowd that joined Arévalo and Herrera during the filing of the writ displayed flags, signs demanding resignations, and vuvuzelas, representing the diversity of sectors supporting the defense of democracy in Guatemala. People from all social classes participated, wearing caps or hats, holding cardboard or plastic signs.

In her speech, Karin Herrera thanked the citizens for their support and emphasized that the people are defending the right to democracy. Arévalo, on his part, called for unity and continued efforts for a different future, stressing that change in the Central American country will only be possible with the participation and backing of the people. "Thank you for overcoming fear," Herrera said during her speech this Monday in Guatemala City.

The day made it clear that the struggle for democracy in Guatemala is in full swing and that Guatemalan society is willing to defend its rights and resist any attempt to undermine the democratic process. It remains to be seen how this situation will evolve in the coming months, as the inauguration of Bernardo Arévalo and his running mate is scheduled for January 14, 2024, and political tensions in the country are far from disappearing.

The United States Government has expressed its concern about the political crisis in Guatemala, stemming from the judicialization of the electoral process by the Public Ministry, including the opening of electoral boxes by prosecutors. U.S. Ambassador to the OAS, Frank O. Mora, urged the Guatemalan government to fulfill its commitments under the Democratic Charter and ensure an unobstructed transition of power. He also condemned the intimidation of officials from the TSE and the Movimiento Semilla party, which won the presidential elections. The U.S. Embassy in Guatemala reiterated this call on social media, emphasizing the importance of defending democratic principles and collaborating with regional partners.

"We are in an act of defending democracy," Arévalo declared. "Do not leave us alone," the President-elect appealed.

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