Guatemala’s Democracy at Risk as Election Appears Manipulated

Experts Warn of Autocracy as Guatemala’s Elites Gain Control


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Guatemala City is awash with campaign posters promoting almost two dozen presidential candidates, all promising to bring prosperity and security.

The former front-runner Carlos Pineda, a conservative agribusinessman and TikTok star, and Thelma Cabrera, an Indigenous Maya Mam grassroots leader, have been blocked on technicalities. Both candidates have urged their supporters to spoil their ballot on 25 June in hope of forcing a rerun. But less than 30 years since the end of a brutal civil war, there are mounting fears that the country is backsliding into autocracy.


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Experts warn that the election appears to have been manipulated to guarantee a president willing to consolidate power on behalf of the country’s elites. In recent years, this group has gained control over every branch of government – as well as the public prosecutor’s office – to secure immunity from prosecution for corruption and civil war crimes.

The Inter American Commission on Human Rights has found ‘serious and worsening setbacks’ in the fight against corruption due to the erosion of the justice system. They also warned that there is a growing harassment of independently minded judges, prosecutors, journalists, and human rights defenders.

Guatemala is the largest and poorest country in Central America. More than half of its 17 million people live in poverty, and half of all children suffer chronic malnutrition. Indigenous communities, who bear the brunt of extractive industries like mining, dams, and African palm plantations, suffer even worse with extreme poverty and hunger. These conditions are driving mass migration north to Mexico and the US.

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As it stands, the top contenders for the presidency are Sandra Torres, a former first lady facing charges for illegal campaign financing; Zury Ríos, the daughter of a former military dictator charged with genocide; and Edmond Mulet, a career diplomat who has denied allegations of facilitating improper overseas adoptions during the civil war.

There is a perception that the election has been rigged and that the outcome is predetermined. Unfortunately, it is common practice in countries with weak democratic institutions to manipulate election results. Guatemala’s situation is grave, and if the election is rigged, this is a matter of great concern.

The biggest problem in Guatemala is corruption, which is rampant. The governing elites and international financiers into whose hands the country has fallen want immunity from prosecution for corruption and civil war crimes. This has led to the erosion of the justice system and the harassment of independently minded judges, prosecutors, journalists, and human rights defenders. The Inter American Commission on Human Rights has found ‘serious and worsening setbacks’ in the fight against corruption.

Protests in 2015 led to the fall of the government and the arrest of the then-president. It was part of a wave of democratic activism known as the Central American Spring. But now, experts say the country is sliding towards autocracy.

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Guatemala is largely an Indigenous country, but Indigenous communities suffer extreme poverty, hunger, and inadequate public services. Indigenous communities are usually the ones who suffer the most from extractive industries backed by the governing elites.

International financiers should work to help eradicate corruption in Guatemala. They must invest in basic public services such as health, education, road safety, housing, water infrastructure, and sustainable agriculture. This will help to alleviate poverty and hunger.

Families rely on remittances, which account for around 15% of Guatemala’s GDP, as the ruling elite has failed to invest in basic public services. The top contenders for president, regardless of their background, will have to prioritize these services, or else the country will continue to be in crisis for another generation.

The people of Guatemala, especially the marginalized Indigenous communities, need a leader who will work for them and who will eradicate corruption, poverty, and hunger. The top contenders have not shown themselves to be that leader.

The fact that the most popular candidates have been blocked on technicalities is concerning. The people of Guatemala deserve a fair and democratic election, but if the outcome is predetermined, their future is bleak.

The country’s elites seek immunity from corruption and war crimes – this has adverse effects on the country’s democracy, and it is leading the country towards autocracy. As the governing elites and international financiers continue to back extractive industries that cause harm to marginalized Indigenous communities, poverty, and hunger continue to increase.

It is imperative that the election is fair and democratic. If the election is rigged, this will only serve to exacerbate the situation. Guatemala must work towards eradicating corruption, investing in basic public services, and working towards equality. The marginalized Indigenous populations must be prioritized, as extractive industries have caused them the most harm.

Guatemala cannot continue its current trajectory without significant consequences. The country is facing an autocratic future, increased hunger and poverty, and continued migration. It is up to the people of Guatemala to vote for positive change, but it is up to the international community to support them. The people of Guatemala need change, and they need it now.

On Sunday, the people of Guatemala will head to the polls, but there is little sign of enthusiasm. The people of Guatemala are tired of corrupt leaders who have done nothing for them. They need change, and they need a fair and democratic election. The future of the country is at stake.


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