Exclusion of left-wing candidates from upcoming presidential race in Guatemala raises concerns

Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal has barred progressive candidates Thelma Cabrera and Jordán Rodas of the MLP party from running on dubious grounds

March 03, 2023 by Peoples Dispatch
Thelma Cabrera and Jordán Roda were chosen as the presidential and the vice presidential candidate of the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP) for the 2023 general elections on December 28, 2022. Photo: MLP

Guatemala is preparing to hold general elections on June 25. Over 9 million Guatemalans will go to the polls to elect the country’s next president, vice president, 160 legislators, 20 members of the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN) as well as mayors and councilors for all 340 municipalities in the country for the period of 2024-2028. However, concerns have been raised about the credibility of the electoral process following the decision of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to bar progressive candidates from running in the presidential elections on dubious grounds.

On January 27, the Directorate General of Citizens’ Registry of the TSE, which oversees elections, denied registering the presidential ticket of the left-wing political party Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP). Indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera and former head of the Human Rights Ombudsman’s Office (PDH) Jordán Rodas were set to be MLP’s candidates for presidency and vice presidency, respectively. The official said that Cabrera and Rodas could not run in the elections because there was an “anomaly” in Rodas’ paperwork. The anomaly turned out to be an administrative error and the MLP leaders immediately filed an appeal in the TSE to reverse the decision and accept the registration of Cabrera and Rodas.

Nevertheless, on February 2, the plenary of magistrates of the TSE ruled against the annulment appeal filed by the MLP, confirming the decision. The TSE stated that a certificate submitted by Rodas as a part of the paperwork at the time of registration was invalid because he is facing criminal charges, owing to a recent complaint against him. On January 6, ten days after Cabrera and Rodas applied to be registered as candidates, the current Human Rights Ombudsman Alejandro Córdova filed a criminal complaint against Rodas, expressing unspecified “doubts” about the way Rodas made payment of a compensation during his time in the office.

Rodas assured that the complaint against him was spurious and was intended to obstruct him from running for the vice presidency. The MLP leaders turned to the Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) to safeguard their political right to contest elections. However, on February 15, the CSJ rejected the appeal to review the decision.

As their last resort, on February 16, Cabrera and Rodas presented an appeal against the resolution of the CSJ before the Constitutional Court (CC), arguing that Córdova’s complaint has no legal basis and it violates the right of millions of Guatemalans’ to elect and their right to be elected. On March 2, the CC declared the appeal filed by the MLP “inadmissible.”

The MLP strongly repudiated the CC’s resolution. “It reflects the corruption that exists in our country. Registering criminals and denying participation of the people points to election fraud,” the party said in a Facebook post.

Throughout the month of February, members of the MLP, the Peasant Development Committee (CODECA), the Guatemala Inmortal, among other Indigenous and human rights organizations, repeatedly took to the streets in different parts of the country to express their dissatisfaction with the rejection of the registration of the MLP presidential ticket. The demonstrators blocked various roads and highways throughout the national territory. The government of conservative President Alejandro Giammattei deployed police to disperse the people and clear the roads.

The MLP previously stated that it would make use of all legal actions, both national and international, to register for the 2023 presidential elections. The movement alleged that the TSE had clearly violated electoral democracy and the principle of equality in law and human rights. It also warned of an escalation of protests at the national level, with blockades at airports, ports and demonstrations outside public offices if the CC failed to do justice to the illegal rejection of its presidential ticket.

Meanwhile, Cabrera and Rodas requested the support of international organizations and argued that leaving them out of the race would create an uneven playing field that could prevent the elections from being free and fair and provoke electoral fraud. On February 3, the duo met with representatives of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) in Washington, US, and solicited their intervention. They alleged that the refusal of the Directorate General of the Citizens’ Registry to register their candidacy “is a retaliation for the complaints of human rights violations and corruption in the government structures that we have promoted in recent years.”

In another Facebook post, the MLP reported that its presidential ticket, with Thelma Cabrera and Jordán Rodas, has not yet been eliminated from the election process. MLP’s lawyer Gustavo Maldonado explained that “the resolution of the Constitutional Court denied granting “a provisional amparo” that the duo had sought at the time to immediately register the candidacy and temporarily annul the resolution of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal that denied the registration, while the alleged inconsistencies were being resolved.”

Maldonado added that “the legal battle is still ongoing in the Supreme Court of Justice, because it has not yet issued a “definitive resolution” on the refusal of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal. Moreover, there is a delay, because on February 23, he asked the Constitutional Court to amend an “error” during the process, due to the fact that one of the parts of the process was not carried out and the probationary period was dispensed with.”

To better understand the situation, Peoples Dispatch spoke to Carlos Barrientos, a leader and founder of the Committee for Peasant Unity, an Indigenous and peasant organization. Barrientos explained to us the reason why the TSE blocked the registration of Thelma Cabrera and Jordán Rodas.

Barrientos told us that Guatemalan law requires current and former officials and other people who have handled public funds and wish to run for public office to obtain a certificate, called a ‘finiquito’ from the comptroller to confirm that they are not under investigation for misuse of public funds.

Although Rodas presented his finiquito when the MLP registered their presidential ticket, in January the Human Rights Ombudsman filed a complaint against the left-wing candidate, claiming that there was “an irregularity in the request for payment of the indemnity presented by Rodas,” said Barrientos. 

The Supreme Electoral Tribunal used this as a basis for not registering the MLP presidential ticket, Barrientos said. The TSE claimed that it needed both a candidate for president and vice president in order to register the ticket.

The MLP decided to appeal to the TSE, which rejected the appeal, and then the it wen to the Supreme Court of Justice, which also rejected the MLP.

“The appeal to the Constitutional Court and its decision on it was the only thing left,” said Barrientos. “However, both the Supreme Court of Justice and the Constitutional Court were captured by corrupt magistrates, so it was practically known what they were going to do, which was to confirm the rejection of Thelma Cabrera and Jordán Rodas’ candidacy.”

Also important to point out, is the apparent political motivation behind the TSE decisions. While the registration of right-wing candidates, Roberto Arzú and David Pineda was also barred, Barrientos stated that, “it was to pretend a little that it was not only against left-wing candidates, but it was purely for show.”

While the MLP ticket was excluded on a technicality, several right wing candidates have been successfully registered despite serious concerns.

One such case was that of candidate Zury Ríos, who is the daughter of former Guatemalan dictator, José Efraín Ríos Montt, responsible for vast crimes against humanity.

Barrientos says this is “in spite of the fact that in the Constitution, there is an article that says that those who have participated in coups d’état, uprisings, rebellions, etc., neither they nor their relatives can be president.”

Sandra Torres, also a right-wing candidate and minister of an evangelical church, should have also been excluded, says Barrientos. Guatemalan law excludes religious or cult ministers from running for president or vice president of the country.

“These two decisions provide evidence that there is an inequality in the way the Supreme Electoral Tribunal is acting,” said Barrientos.

In this regard, Barrientos explained why Jordán Rodas was prevented from running in the elections. “This kind of action against Rodas was expected. In the last elections, a former Attorney General, who chose to be a candidate, was not allowed to participate also because of the same issue of the finiquito,” said Barrientos. 

“Jordán Rodas had a history of confronting corrupt government agents in his function as Human Rights Ombudsman and he made many enemies,” he continued. “Despite the fact that he was discharged, the MLP decided to include Rodas in the presidential ticket and the results are already known: struggle until the victory.”