The political crisis in Guatemala continues to deepen. On Tuesday, September 12, president-elect Bernardo Arévalo temporarily suspended the transition process with the outgoing government of President Alejandro Giammattei. Arévalo’s announcement came after the State Attorney General’s Office raided electoral facilities storing ballots and opened ballot boxes to photograph their contents.
Arévalo called the Attorney General’s Office’s investigation of his resounding electoral victory on August 20 part of a coup attempt. He described the raid as “flagrant crimes of abuse of authority for electoral purposes” and “violation of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Guatemala.” He said that his participation in the transition would resume once the “necessary institutional [and] political conditions are reestablished.”
Arévalo also demanded the resignation of three officials at the center of the legal efforts targeting his center-left Movimiento Semilla (Semilla Movement) party—Attorney General Consuelo Porras, Special Prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche, and Judge Fredy Orellana, who granted permission for the raid—calling them “coup plotters.”
Incumbent President Giammattei said in response that his government respected Arévalo’s decision but did not agree with it. He claimed that Arévalo’s decision was based on actions beyond the executive branch, “which do not interfere with the process that had been developed to date.”
“We reiterate our firm willingness to immediately resume the transition process as soon as the elected authorities request it,” he added.
Unprecedented opening of ballot boxes
On Tuesday, agents from the Attorney General’s Office raided facilities of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) that were storing ballots from the June elections in which Arévalo had pulled ahead of ruling far-right Vamos party’s candidate and advanced to the run-off.
Luis Gerardo Ramírez, a spokesperson of the TSE, emphasized that the tribunal had not granted permission to open the ballot boxes and that the raid was carried out with a judge’s order from the Attorney General’s Office.
The Attorney General’s Office had asked to review at least 160 boxes of votes from different regions of the country, said Ramírez. Under Guatemalan law, only TSE personnel and the teams that count the votes at polling stations on election day can handle the secret ballots.
Gloria López, electoral director of the TSE, described the action as “unprecedented” and “not prescribed by law.” She added that the opened ballot boxes didn’t have digital backups and that their handling by the Attorney General’s Office broke the TSE’s chain of custody.
Persecution of Arévalo and Movimiento Semilla
The Attorney General’s Office began persecuting Arévalo and his party, Movimiento Semilla, soon after he won the first round of the presidential election on June 25.
The Office opened an investigation against the party citing alleged anomalies in its registration process in 2017. On July 12, Curruchiche suspended the legal status of Semilla, provoking widespread international criticism.
On September 2, the TSE temporarily revoked the suspension order until October 31. On September 5, the TSE officially declared Arévalo the winner and gave him the credentials that accredited him as the head of state for the period 2024-2028, starting January 14.
Tuesday’s raid has fueled doubts around the transfer of power, which were raised by Arévalo earlier this month. In a press conference on September 1, Arévalo had claimed that a technical coup d’état was underway to prevent him from assuming power in January 2024, averting the popular will expressed at the polls. He had called out Porras, Curruchiche, Orellana, and members of the Board of Directors of the Congress for promoting destabilizing actions.
“There is a group of corrupt politicians and officials who refuse to accept the results and have launched a plan to break the constitutional order and violate democracy…The justice apparatus is being used to violate justice itself,” condemned Arévalo.
This Tuesday, he urged all “state institutions and officials not to give in to these arbitrariness,” citing article 156 of the constitution that “no public, civil or military official or employee is obliged to comply with manifestly illegal orders.”