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Guatemala: President-elect Arevalo pauses transition

September 13, 2023

Arevalo suspended the government transition process because officials from the top prosecutor's office raided electoral facilities and opened ballot boxes. He has demanded the resignation of the prosecutor.

Guatemalan President-elect Bernardo Arevalo in Guatemala City
Arevalo has demanded the attorney general to resign.Image: Cristina Chiquin/REUTERS

Guatemalan President-elect Bernardo Arevalo announced on Tuesday that he is temporarily halting the transition process and demanding the resignation of the attorney general. 

This announcement came as the country's top prosecutor's office raided electoral facilities and opened ballot boxes to photograph their contents. Arevalo called it a "flagrant crimes of abuse of authority for electoral purposes" that violated Guatemala's constitution.

Arevalo said in a post on social media platform X that his team had informed President Alejandro Giammattei they were temporarily suspending the transition "while the necessary institutional political conditions are reestablished."

Giammattei in response said his government respected Arevalo's decision but did not agree with it, because it was made as a result of actions beyond the executive branch, "which do not interfere with the process that had been developed to date."

Unprecedented opening of ballot boxes

Luis Gerardo Ramírez, a spokesperson for the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, emphasized that they had not granted permission to open the ballot boxes and asserted that the raid was carried out with a judge's order from the Attorney General's Office.

According to Ramírez, the prosecutor had requested to review at least 160 boxes of votes from different regions, a task normally conducted by the tribunal and polling place teams on election day.

Gloria López, the electoral director of the tribunal, said that this action was unprecedented and not prescribed by law. She added that the opened ballot boxes lacked digital backups, breaking the chain of custody. 

"We would no longer be able to ensure what exactly are the votes that are inside the electoral boxes and what is the number of signatures and fingerprints on the (polling place tally sheets) that are going in the boxes," she said. 

A 'frontal attack on the integrity of the vote' 

The Organization of American States electoral observation mission in Guatemala expressed concern about these actions. "The opening of the electoral packers by people and institutions other than those identified by law represents a frontal attack on the integrity of the vote and an affront to the popular will," it said in a statement.

Anti-corruption prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche, who had been investigating Arevalo's Seed Movement party, led the operation. He has faced sanctions from the US for allegedly obstructing anti-corruption efforts.

While the Attorney General's Office confirmed the raid, they did not specify the case to which it was related. Judge Fredy Orellana, who issued the order for the raid, has also faced sanctions from the US government.

tg/wd (AP, Reuters)