By: Omar Silva, NP Staff Writer
Belize City: Friday, 30th June 2023
The recent election in Guatemala has sparked hope among Belizeans, Guatemalans, and people worldwide who are tired of persistent graft scandals. Bernardo Arevalo, an unexpected anti-corruption candidate, has emerged as a frontrunner in the presidential race, challenging the established politicians and raising aspirations for a government cleanup.
Arevalo, a former diplomat and son of former president Juan Jose Arevalo, defied poll forecasts by finishing as the runner-up in the first round of voting. Representing the center-left Semilla party, founded in 2017, Arevalo follows in the footsteps of Thelma Aldana, the party's previous candidate and a renowned attorney general instrumental in the prosecution of corrupt former president Otto Perez.
The strong support for Semilla and Bernardo Arevalo signifies a growing resistance to the pervasive corruption and conservative policies that have plagued Guatemala for years. Voters frustrated with the status quo expressed their discontent, with nearly a quarter of the counted ballots being either spoiled or left blank. This act of protest demonstrates a desire for change and a rejection of establishment politics.
Carlos Pineda, a businessman who initially led the race but was later disqualified, urged his supporters to spoil their votes, further highlighting the frustration with the system. Will Freeman, a Latin America studies fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, believes that Arevalo's success is partly due to the "elite" inadvertently uniting the opposition by preventing several challengers from running.
Remarkably, Arevalo was considered an underdog, polling at just 0.7% a few weeks ago. However, the number of spoiled ballots and dissatisfied voters could significantly benefit Arevalo in the second round on August 20.
Arevalo, a staunch critic of corruption, has pledged to cleanse institutions tainted by corrupt practices and to bring back exiled prosecutors, judges, and journalists who have been unjustly persecuted. He has emphasized the importance of justice and aims to spur competition in an economy dominated by a small group of elites.
His opponent in the run-off, former first lady Sandra Torres, represents the center-left National Unity of Hope (UNE). Torres faced accusations of breaking campaign finance rules and illicit association, resulting in a four-month period of arrest. The case against Torres was eventually dropped due to a lack of evidence, which she vehemently denies.
Opinion polls suggest that Torres will face challenges in winning the run-off, given her unpopularity in the capital, Guatemala City, where a significant portion of the electorate resides. With Torres's anti-vote remaining high, around 41%, Arevalo seems to be the favored candidate.
However, addressing corruption and challenging the entrenched interests of powerful elites will not be an easy task. Semilla's previous candidate, attorney Thelma Aldana, was prevented from running in 2019 due to allegations of financial wrongdoing, which she believes were politically motivated. The ongoing resistance to tackle corruption within the government has strained relations between Guatemala and the United States. Transparency International's corruption perceptions index ranks Guatemala at an all-time low.
Nonetheless, the recent election has instilled hope for change in Guatemala. Ivan Velasquez, former head of the defunct International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), congratulated the country on social media, echoing the words of the late Guatemalan poet and human rights activist Julia Esquivel: "You can cut all the flowers, but spring will always return. You will blossom, Guatemala."
As the run-off approaches, Bernardo Arevalo's unexpected rise in popularity represents a significant opportunity for Guatemala to address corruption and work towards a brighter future under a