GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — The head of the Organization of American States’ election observation mission said Friday that the actions taken by Guatemala’s justice system against the Seed Movement party of President-elect Bernardo Arévalo appear to be aimed at preventing him from taking power.
Arévalo echoed that concern at his own news conference Friday in which he called on Guatemalans to resist what he characterized as an attempt to overthrow his government before it takes office.
The president-elect also received a call from U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris congratulating him on his victory and pledging to work closely with his government, as the Biden administration works to make the transition to Arévalo appear inevitable.
Eladio Loizaga of the Organization of American States told a special meeting of the permanent council the Aug. 20 election vote was a peaceful and transparent election that left no doubt as to the will of the people.
But in summarizing the various legal actions taken by the Attorney General’s Office against the Seed Movement, Loizaga said there appears to be clear political intent.
“Given the documented conditions, it is impossible that the Electoral Observation Mission would arrive at any other conclusion than that in this very specific case the mechanisms and tools of Guatemalan justice are being used politically” against the Seed Movement, he said, adding that the behavior of Guatemalan authorities has been “selective, disproportionate and clearly tailored to the political moment.”
Loizaga said that preventing Arévalo from taking power in January would break the constitutional order and go against the will of the people.
At the request of prosecutors, a judge suspended the Seed Movement’s legal status for alleged wrongdoing in the party’s collection of the signatures needed to register years earlier. This week, Guatemala’s Congress declared the Seed Movement’s seven lawmakers — one of whom is Arévalo — independents, which bars them from holding leadership positions.
Arévalo won the runoff against former first lady Sandra Torres by more than 20 points. She has not conceded and her party has alleged fraud, something Loizaga said was not supported by evidence.
Arévalo named Attorney General Consuelo Porras, anti-corruption prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche and the judge who ordered his party’s suspension as among those working to keep him from taking office.
“We are seeing a coup d’etat in motion in which the justice apparatus is used to violate justice,” Arévalo said.
Ahead of next January’s swearing in, “We alert the Guatemalan people that there are still four months, during which these political mafias will try to consummate the coup d’etat,” he said. “The people’s resistance is legitimate,” he added.
Guatemala’s Foreign Minister Mario Búcaro, who was present at the OAS meeting, downplayed the notion of any turmoil in the country’s politics, saying “there is no electoral crisis, and there is peace.”
Later Friday, the White House announced that U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris spoke with Arévalo. She congratulated him on his victory and “discussed our shared interests in combatting corruption, supporting civilian security, and increasing economic opportunity,” according to a summary of the call provided by the White House.
Harris had previously identified corruption as one of the factors driving emigration from Guatemala. The call was the latest show of support by the U.S. government toward Arévalo since his election.
The Biden administration has been at odds with the government of outgoing Guatemala President Alejandro Giammattei in recent years, sanctioning his attorney general as an undemocratic actor and criticizing a deterioration in the country’s democratic institutions, even while trying to enlist its help in controlling migration flows.