Guatemala’s outgoing president promises to hand over power, but condemns foreign interference in the UN general debate.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has warned of the “risk of a coup” in Guatemala during a speech to the United Nations General Assembly, prompting a rebuke from the country’s outgoing president, Alejandro Giammattei.
Speaking from UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday, Lula expressed concern that the results of Guatemala’s 2023 presidential election could be overturned.
“In Guatemala there is a risk of a coup d’état, which would hinder the inauguration of the winner of the democratic elections,” Lula said during the General Debate, an event where world leaders can speak on whatever topics they choose.
But hours later it was Giammattei’s turn to take the stage, and he pushed back against Lula’s allegations.
“Contrary to the supposed truths we have heard from this stage today, I will hand over power to the person elected in the elections,” Giammattei said.
He further condemned “unnecessary international involvement” in the elections.
“That involvement and interference was unnecessary because our democracy is not perfect, but it has been a democracy that has allowed us to transfer power peacefully and respect the Constitution,” he added.
The high-profile back-and-forth comes a day after U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States Francisco Mora said Washington was concerned about efforts to undermine democracy in Guatemala.
He pointed to recent actions by Guatemala’s top prosecutor’s office that appear to target newly elected President Bernardo Arevalo, the anti-corruption candidate who won the Aug. 20 runoff election.
Since emerging as the frontrunner in the elections, Arevalo has seen his political party, the Seed Movement, threatened with suspension.
Prosecutors under Attorney General María Consuelo Porras also sought court orders to raid the Seed Movement headquarters and the offices of Guatemala’s electoral authority.
In a police raid last week, police opened boxes containing sealed ballots, a move that sparked international outrage.
“In a healthy democracy, institutions do not tamper with ballot boxes after the election results have been officially certified by the competent authority,” Mora said.
He called the act “an attack on the rule of law” and called on authorities in Guatemala to end their “intimidation efforts.”
The Public Prosecution Service has maintained that it is following the law.
For his part, Arevalo briefly suspended his participation in the government transition to protest the prosecutors’ actions. He has also called on Porras and other officials to resign.
These calls rang out on the streets of Guatemala this week, as Arevalo called on his supporters to march in defense of the country’s election integrity.
On Tuesday, thousands of indigenous supporters and farmers set up 14 blockades along the country’s seven main highways and several streets in the capital Guatemala City to demonstrate against alleged election interference.
On Monday, a coalition of academic and rights groups also issued a statement urging international pressure to ensure Guatemala respects the election results.
Arevalo will take office in January.