The surprising rise of the anti-establishment option in Guatemala | International

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In the voting intention polls, the Movimiento Semilla was part of the choleros squad among the 23 political parties and coalitions that were competing for the presidency of Guatemala. Nobody gave a fifth for them or their candidate Bernardo Arévalo. They came to be considered simply an option that the ruling alliance allowed to participate in the elections, despite their permanently critical and irritating speech, because they did not represent any threat and to deny that only right-wing options were allowed to participate in the elections. prosystem. Three presidential candidacies in a row with an apparent chance of victory had already been excluded. No one could foresee that this urban party would capture 12% of the votes and go to the second round scheduled for August 20.

Hated by the national right for being biting and sharp in pointing out the system of privileges, corruption and impunity, the Semilla candidates did not stop criticizing despite the latent risk of being reprimanded by the Supreme Electoral Tribunal or excluded altogether.

Critical since its origins in 2018 as a movement that reflected the feelings of the anti-corruption protests in the Plaza in 2015, the Seed Movement did not change in the campaign. On the night of the closing, supporters of Arévalo projected on the building of the Chamber of Industry, which serves as the headquarters of the powerful business association Cacif, a bright message that read: "Let the people decide and not the Cacif."

The Cacif (Coordinating Committee of Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations) is perceived in Guatemala as favorable to the corrupt government of Alejandro Giammatei, which has concentrated power, co-opted democratic institutions and has persecuted judges, magistrates and journalists who supported the fight against corruption between 2015 and 2018. The business leadership, which has not said a word about authoritarianism, the closure of a newspaper due to the imprisonment of its president or the exile of dozens of former prosecutors, seems friendly to those who steal public money.

Semilla and the same candidate Arévalo publicly request that the representative of the private sector be excluded from numerous directives of public entities. In Guatemala, even the Monetary Board is made up of a member from the banking system.

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The Seed Movement is a small urban political party. He declares himself a social democrat and advocates expanding social security coverage, public health and strengthening education services in a country from which four million migrants located in the United States have deserted.

In 2019, the system banned the participation of its presidential candidate, former prosecutor Thelma Aldana, who led the attack on the corrupt.

Guatemalan candidate Sandra Torres, on Sunday after voting in Guatemala City.JOHAN ORDONEZ (AFP)

No one doubted that Sandra Torres, the candidate of the National Unity of Hope, who will compete alongside Arévalo in the second round of elections, also a Social Democrat and who belongs to the Socialist International, would qualify. She has already competed three times and in the previous two she had managed to be a finalist. But powerful rejection in urban areas prevented him on both occasions from winning the Presidency. Her business leadership insulted her, her critics pointed to her without evidence as an ex-guerrilla and her right, which today sees her as her lesser evil, before she hated her.

In urban areas it is precisely where Semilla garnered the necessary votes to obtain just over 12% of the vote. Torres got 15%. The relative majority of voters (17%) opted for the null vote as a protest against the manipulation of the process. And it is those votes and those of the excluded candidates that will be in dispute in the next election.

The fact that two center-left candidates reach the second round indicates that an ideological battle is not at stake, but rather the one that began in 2015 against corruption as the main engine of Guatemalan politics.

In the country, the citizen protest against corruption was considered dead after the last marches were dissolved by the Police throwing tear gas canisters towards the protesters' faces. Two boys lost one of their eyes. And two female opposition activists were jailed and prosecuted for painting public buildings. After the surprising electoral results, it is clearer that rampant corruption is a reason for the rejection of a significant part of the citizenry.

The right-wing candidates throughout the campaign, however, ignored the issue of corruption in their speeches or only alluded to it in a tangential and vague way. Sandra Torres did the same. Partly because of this, and partly because the deputies from her party supported the regime of Alejandro Giammatei while those of the Seed Movement lashed out at him in Congress, she is now seen as part of the status quo.

Torres, appropriating the conservative discourse that did not do much good for the right-wing parties in the first round, soon joined the effort to stigmatize Semilla as an "anti-family" party, pro-abortion and favorable to the recognition of marriage between people of the same age. sex. He further suggests that the private property regime may be at risk if Arévalo comes to power.

Semilla, for its part, maintains that therapeutic abortion recognized in Guatemalan law is enough for the moment, that it does not intend to call for a tax increase as long as corruption persists, that it only favors the purchase of land on the market to eventual distribution to peasants and does not contemplate expropriations.

Sandra Torres has expressed her satisfaction with the work of Attorney General Consuelo Porras, considered a corrupt and undemocratic character and for that reason sanctioned by the United States Department of State and included in the Engel list.

Bernardo Arévalo, on the other hand, has made it clear that he does not trust the Prosecutor (who by law cannot be removed) and has warned that he would not re-elect her in any way. But the Guatemalan elites feel more secure on an ideological level and now, incredulous at Arévalo's relative victory, are trying by all means to stop his passage to the second round.

The official party, accused of paying for votes, of using public resources to strengthen the campaign of its candidates and on which there are even accusations of having bribed the magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, has come out to denounce a possible fraud in favor of Semilla . And it demands a recount of votes.

The highest of the courts, that of Constitutionality, has ruled in favor of an appeal filed by the majority of political parties that allege fraud. The Court orders that all challenges be considered, including a recount if necessary. The fear of Semilla's followers is that an attempt will be made to exclude the party from the second round or even that the electoral result will be annulled and new elections will be called, now without Bernardo Arévalo's party.

But this new battle is already taking place in a new political environment. Something important has changed in Guatemala. Now, there are proposals from professionals and citizens who want to join a potential Government of Arévalo, hundreds of volunteers have already saturated the open page to recruit those who volunteer to be table prosecutors on behalf of the organization and thus take care of their votes. Bank accounts have been opened to receive small-scale donations because the party is not backed by any big financiers. And a kind of cultural movement seems to be underway that on networks generates videos, gifs, songs to the rhythm of cumbia, emojis and all kinds of paraphernalia with the symbol of the Semilla party, which is that of a recently germinated plant.

The Seed Movement, which was not covered by broadcast television (owned by a monopoly favorable to status quo), nor did it advertise on billboards, it limited itself to a modest organic campaign on social networks in the first round. The candidate mobilized in his own vehicle throughout the country to campaign. He never used a helicopter like his opponents or flew in a plane to points in the territory where, nevertheless, he obtained votes — something that his competitors publicly claim is incredible.

How could an openly anti-system option, critical of the most powerful in Guatemala, be close to reaching power to face the coopted institutions that are almost all? It is a case study that has exceeded all expectations and broken all the rules.

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