Prosecutors in Guatemala ask court to lift president-elect’s immunity; OAS cites ‘coup attempt’

It was the third time they have done so since he won election in August. Prosecutors say there could be enough irregularities to annul the election results

Bernardo Arevalo
Bernardo Arevalo, Guatemala's president-elect, greets demonstrators during a protest at the Supreme Court of Justice in Guatemala City, Guatemala. Dec. 7, 2023.Luis Echeverria (Bloomberg)

Prosecutors in Guatemala on Friday asked a court to strip President-elect Bernardo Arévalo of his immunity, saying there could be enough irregularities to annul the election results, a move that the OAS called part of “a coup attempt.”

It was the third time they have done so since he won election in August, and the Organization of American States said the moves were part of “a coup attempt.”

Arévalo is scheduled to take office on Jan. 14, and it was unclear whether the prosecutors’ continued targeting of him and his party could interfere with the inauguration.

The most recent request from prosecutors cites alleged irregularities in the way Arévalo’s Seed Movement party gathered signatures to register years earlier.

Authorities arrested a number of Seed Movement members in recent weeks. They also previously requested stripping Arévalo of immunity over alleged mishandling of party funds, and requested that he and his vice president-elect also lose their immunity for allegedly making supportive comments on social media about the takeover of a public university last year.

The OAS in a statement said it “condemns the coup attempt by Guatemalan prosecutors,” and urged the courts and congress not to allow it.

“The attempt to nullify this year’s general elections represents the worst form of breaking with democracy and consolidating a political fraud against the will of the people,” the OAS wrote.

Attorney General Consuelo Porras, who has been sanctioned by the U.S. government, has faced months of protests and calls for her resignation, as well as international condemnation for her office’s interference. Porras, as well as outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei, have denied any intent to meddle in the election results.

Earlier this month, three magistrates of Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal left the country, hours after the Congress opened them up to prosecution by stripping them of their immunity as the losing side in the presidential election continued its efforts to interfere with the results.

The magistrates certified the election result but came under pressure from two attorneys tied to a far-right candidate who did not advance to the runoff round of the presidential election.

The attorneys complained that the tribunal overpaid for software purchased to carry out and publish rapid initial vote tallies. The Attorney General’s Office had previously said that its preliminary investigation suggested there had been less expensive options available.

Arévalo had not been polling among the top candidates headed into the first round of voting in June, but secured the second spot in the runoff with his promise to crack down on Guatemala’s endemic corruption. In the final vote in August, he won by a wide margin over former first lady Sandra Torres.

The son of a former president, Arévalo still managed to position himself as an outsider. As an academic who had worked for years in conflict resolution, he was untainted by the corruption that has pervaded Guatemalan politics in recent years and offered a promise of change.

Guatemala’s establishment, which would potentially have the most to fear from an Arévalo administration serious about taking on corruption, appears clearly bent on either weakening Arévalo or preventing from taking office.

In testimony to the special committee investigating the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, Karen Fisher, one of the attorneys who brought the complaint, urged them to move quickly. “Time is short because Jan. 14 is coming up,” she said.

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