Flawed elections and a captured judiciary: Guatemala risks dictatorship


In a briefing published today (full briefing in Spanish, executive summary in English available here) on the occasion of the upcoming elections in Guatemala, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) alerts about the serious deterioration of Guatemalan democracy and the risk of a transition towards a dictatorial regime.

21 June 2023. The hopes for Guatemala to become a model of reconciliation and the fight against corruption for the region have become a distant memory. In this briefing, FIDH presents arguments that lead to the conclusion that democracy is in grave danger in Guatemala. In just four years, the Guatemalan government has deliberately attacked the central pillars of democracy: first, judicial independence; then, freedom of expression; and now, the integrity of elections.

The briefing presents in detail the difficulties that the country’s institutions have been going through. In 2019, the Guatemalan government ordered the closure of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala - CICIG) and revoked the immunity of United Nations anti-corruption investigators. That same year, Congress, which was to elect new judges for the Supreme Court of Justice and the Court of Appeals, went against the Constitutional Court’s order and indefinitely extended the mandate of the current judges. This irregular renewal of mandates was key to capture the judiciary and thus ensure that its decisions favored certain individuals, some of which are allegedly responsible for serious crimes.

Prosecutor María Consuelo Porras, sanctioned by the U.S. for acts of corruption, has transformed the Public Prosecutor’s Office into an entity of unjustified criminal prosecution against journalists, judges, prosecutors, human rights defenders and political opponents.

As of October 2022, at least fifty-three judicial officials had been dismissed, criminalised or forced into exile: twenty-three from the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (Fiscalía Especial contra la Impunidad - FECI), thirteen prosecutors or former prosecutors, eleven officials from the Public Prosecutor’s Office, four judges and two magistrates.

The June 25 elections are the continuity of a regime of corruption and impunity

This weekend’s presidential, parliamentary and municipal elections will take place in an atmosphere of corruption, as well as anxiety for journalists who are critical of the current government. For example, José Rubén Zamora, a prestigious journalist and founder of several media outlets, is facing an unjustified criminal trial, in which he has had no basic guarantees for his defense and where his lawyers have been criminalised. This week he was sentenced to six years in prison.

For Jimena Reyes, director of FIDH’s Americas Program, “the unconstitutional participation of Zury Ríos, daughter of Guatemalan dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, in this weekend’s elections and, at the same time, arbitrary decisions that prevent the participation of other candidates, some of them well positioned in the polls, are indicators of the possible end of democracy in Guatemala”.

FIDH calls on election observers to denounce if they detect a lack of transparency in the handling of the vote counting software. It also insists on the need to observe the lack of freedom of expression during the elections, the undue exclusion of candidates and the capture of institutions in charge of ensuring respect for the political rights of Guatemalans.

FIDH also calls on the international community to take a stronger stand against the risk of a transition to a dictatorial regime in Guatemala.

The executive summary is available below:

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