President-elect Bernardo Arevalo’s electoral victory in August “has not sat well with the political establishment” in Guatemala, says USIP’s Mary Speck, and their attempts to undermine the transition have been met by popular protests led by Indigenous leaders advocating “on behalf of democracy.”
U.S. Institute of Peace experts discuss the latest foreign policy issues from around the world in On Peace, a brief weekly collaboration with SiriusXM's POTUS Channel 124.
Laura Coates: Joining me now is Dr. Mary Speck, a senior expert for the Latin America program at the United States Institute of Peace. She previously served as Executive Director of the Western Hemisphere Drug Policy Commission, an independent bipartisan entity created by Congress to evaluate counter narcotics practices and policies in the Americas and also provide recommendations as such. Dr. Mary Speck joins us now. Welcome and good morning. How are you?
Mary Speck: Good morning. Fine, thank you for having me.
Laura Coates: I'm glad that you're here, as we are looking internationally at the tensions that are abroad, particularly obviously, in Ukraine and in Israel and in Gaza. There are also issues happening in Latin America in particular, as well. And there has been protests for at least what I think two weeks in Guatemala, and there's social and political tensions that remain high. What's been happening there?
Mary Speck: Well, there was an election of an outsider, anti-corruption candidate who unexpectedly won a fourth round in June and then a landslide victory by a 20-point margin in August. And this has not sat well, with the political establishment, so to speak, what protesters are calling the Pact of the Corrupt, which has tried to launch a number of investigations, both to question the legitimacy of his party, and also to question the electoral results, which were observed and found to be free and fair by both local and international observers.
Laura Coates: These protests have been largely peaceful, as I understand it, right?
Mary Speck: Yes, they're largely peaceful. And what's interesting about the protests is that they'd been led by the indigenous leaders by indigenous authorities, the so-called ancestral authorities, from a number of communities in the Guatemalan Hinterland so to speak, and they make it clear that they're not protesting necessarily in favor of Semilla, which is the opposition party, the president elects party, but on behalf of democracy. So, they're very much independent of the political structure, supported, of course, by students and supported, of course by others in urban areas, but essentially indigenous led.
Laura Coates: What are they calling for specifically, the resignation or a new runoff? What?
Mary Speck: No, the protesters are calling for the resignation of the Attorney General, who is Consuelo Porras, who is in fact sanctioned by the United States for blocking anti-corruption investigations. They're calling for her resignation and the resignation of her top prosecutors and that are leading and some of the judges that have supported these investigations are calling for her resignation, because they believe that she is plotting to if not overturn the results of the of the elections to hamstrung the incoming government.
Laura Coates: Now, the idea of the Attorney General being the person to resign might seem odd to people in the US thinking about that in an election, but it's why wouldn't it be the party that has been elected?
Mary Speck: Well, the Attorney General is in Guatemala has a great deal of independence. They are not named they are they go through a column of rather complex selection process approved by Congress on basis on nominees from the President. So, the both the President is saying he does not have the power to ask her to resign her name is Consuelo Porras. So, they are demanding that she voluntarily resign, essentially. There's some question as to the legal means of forcing her out, she has to be charged and things like that. So, it's a complicated process. So, the protesters are saying you should just resign. If the president can't fire you, you must resign.
Laura Coates: Sounds like the chances are that might be increasingly slim, but the instability is happening in Guatemala, this does have an impact on the United States. This conversation is not just purely theoretical, what would be that impact?
Mary Speck: Well, first, it would be further the, the questioning of electoral results is a very disturbing trend, if it becomes a trend in in Guatemala, these elections were observed by the OAS, by the EU, by local observers, if they're able to this, this idea of questioning the electoral results when they when they come out against the governing party is very disturbing. The United States has made promoting democracy in the region, a center of its policies, but also on a very practical level, Guatemala is a major source of migration to the United States and the drug trafficking route instability in that country directly impacts the United States.
Laura Coates: That's a really important point. Has the United States then sought to intervene or wade in?
Mary Speck: Well, the United States has said has called has said that Arévalo must be inaugurated. There's a very long transition period and in Guatemala. His inauguration isn't until January. So, they have been outspoken in their support for the president elect Bernardo Arévalo. They have sanctioned a number of Guatemalan officials, including this attorney general who, who is the focus of these protests, and they've called on the president to do everything in his power to make sure that there is a peaceful transition of power to the president elect in January.
Laura Coates: This has been really helpful to break this down. Dr. Mary Speck, thank you so much for bringing us the very latest. I appreciate it.
Mary Speck: Thank you.