Home ENGLISH NEWS Guatemala muddles through its path to democratic consolidation, opinion column by Nicholas...

Guatemala muddles through its path to democratic consolidation, opinion column by Nicholas Virzi.

In a recent article in World Politics Review, Dinorah Azpuru , an expert on democratic culture from Wichita State University, summarized what is to be considered the conventional narrative on Guatemala. The narrative is as follows.

In 2019, political elites and business elites shut down the anti-corruption movement led by the U.S. and its instrument of policy in Guatemala, the UN anti-corruption commission known as CICIG. The presidency, the legislative branch and the justice system have been co-opted by an unholy alliance of politicians, former military officials and business elites. As a result, former anti-corruption prosecutors have fled the country into exile, fearing criminal persecution for their conduct while in office. The narrative also notes that journalists have been arrested or forced to flee abroad and that human rights defenders and civil society leaders are regularly threatened with lawsuits in order to silence dissent.

The news of democracy´s demise in Guatemala is somewhat exaggerated. Politics is a pendulum. Every so often, political maps surface showing the advance of the left, or the right, in Latin America as a whole. As often, dire warning surface on the rise of extremism in the region, depending on who is losing and making the warnings.

Guatemala will celebrate presidential elections in 2023, on schedule, as is that country´s custom of the last three decades. Of special concern to many democracy-watchers in the case of Guatemala is that the international community clearly failed in its attempt to impose a satellite government, led by the nose by the U.S. Department of State (DOS) during the last administration of president Jimmy Morales. This failure has continued under the present administration of Alejandro Giammattei, which has resisted interference by the U.S. in its internal political and legal affairs.

Azpuru references the massive popular protests against the corruption of the Pérez-Baldetti administration, which eventually forced both the president and vicepresident to resign in disgrace in 2015. However, she misses the mark when she claims that it was the political and business elites shut down the anti-corruption movement.

CICIG lost popular support by its own doing, leading a highly-politicized crusade that well exceeded its strict U.N. mandate to investigate illegal security groups and clandestine security organizations in Guatemala, a mandate it all but ignored. While true that CICIG was forced to leave Guatemala when its mandate was not renewed by president Jimmy Morales, the end of the mandate was a foregone conclusion, announced a year in advance. This was after CICIG participated in a raid on the presidential residence, over-charged the president´s brother and son on ridiculous money-laundering charges, and promoted radical constitutional reforms that were domestically controversial.

Corruption and institutional quality remain hot topics in the political discourse of Guatemala. The private sector has led the charge for control of corruption and institutional quality since the 1990´s. Corruption was a central topic in the on-going discussions on fiscal reform in Guatemala, well before the CICIG movement got underway, going back to the late 1990´s. In 2022, forty-two percent of Guatemalans continue to identify corruption as a leading problem in the country. The DOS and ex-CICIG officials have only themselves to blame for squandering the wide public trust and support that CICIG briefly enjoyed in 2015.

It is not as Azpuru suggests that the Guatemalan middle class is indifferent to issues of institutional quality. The same middle class which voted for, and turned on, president Otto Pérez for the phenomenal corruption of his government quickly grew wary of what the DOS and CICIG were doing in the guise of the “fight against corruption”.

Azpuru makes another questionable claim, that “the deep polarization between the left and right inherited from the civil war never eased”. That is also not true. The 2015 anti-corruption movement that toppled the Pérez-Baldetti administration that Azpuru herself mentions is a case in point. It showed that political consensus is possible in Guatemala and can have enormous political consequence.

Again, had it not been for the reckless actions of a DOS-led CICIG in Guatemala, the ant-corruption movement would probably be alive and well in Guatemala. Admittedly, that is a counter-factual, and it is impossible to know for sure.

What is known is that democratic development is best left to the countries that have demonstrated the requisite political will to undergo it. Those without such political will are hopeless causes, for all practical intents and purposes. Thankfully, Guatemala, a country close to our shores and key to U.S. national security has shown, for decades, a modicum of political will to muddle through the development process.

The current government of Guatemala will leave executive power next year, just as the government of Jimmy Morales left power, dire predictions notwithstanding. What will follow in its wake will not be a full-fledged democracy, but a “mid-range electoral democracy”, to borrow an apt term from Azpuru. That is a positive scenario in a second-best world.

If continued U.S. interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and other countries prove anything, it is that excessive U.S. intervention can produce blowbacks and unintended consequences that run contrary to U.S. interests. That is a high price to pay for letting the arrogance of DOS bureaucrats run unchecked. This is especially true in the case of Guatemala, a pro-U.S. country strategically located in Central America, a region that communist China is dying to penetrate.

El atentado frustrado

El 24 de diciembre, Policía Militar do Distrito Federal, desactivó un artefacto explosivo dentro de un camión en las adyacencias de la terminal aérea y, un día después, la Policía Civil detuvo a George Washington de Oliveira Sousa, quien admitió su responsabilidad en el hecho.

Actualmente, el incidente es investigado por la 10ª Delegación de Policía Civil.

El objetivo del detenido, según Gazeta do Povo, era “llamar la atención para el movimiento a favor del presidente Bolsonaro” y causar un “tumulto” en Brasilia.

En su vivienda se encontraron escopetas, un rifle, dos revólveres, tres pistolas, municiones, uniformes camuflados y cinco emulsiones explosivas, publicó G1. El armamento incautado fue compartido por Dino en un trino.

Según afirmó el empresario de 54 años, también había planeado poner explosivos en la subestación eléctrica de Taguatinga, en el Distrito Federal, para “provocar la intervención de las Fuerzas Armadas y el decreto del estado de sitio”. Su propósito era impedir la investidura de líder del Partido de los Trabajadores (PT).

Hasta el momento, se manejan los cargos de porte ilegal de armas, municipios y explosivos y crimen contra el estado democrático de derecho.


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