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Guatemalan prosecutors pursue plans to press charges against the president-elect

Guatemala's President-elect Bernardo Arévalo leaves at the end of a press conference in the Plaza of Human Rights in Guatemala City after Guatemalan prosecutors announced they would seek to strip Arévalo and several members of his party of their immunity from prosecution.
Santiago Billy
/
AP
Guatemala's President-elect Bernardo Arévalo leaves at the end of a press conference in the Plaza of Human Rights in Guatemala City after Guatemalan prosecutors announced they would seek to strip Arévalo and several members of his party of their immunity from prosecution.

MEXICO CITY - Prosecutors in Guatemala say they plan to present charges against the country's President-elect Bernardo Arévalo and vice president-elect — moves that are being condemned as an attempt to keep Arévalo from taking office in January.

At a news conference on Thursday, prosecutors said they would ask the Supreme Court to strip him and other members of his party of immunity from prosecution for damages resulting from a 2022 protest at a public university. The prosecutors claimed social media posts made by Arévalo at the time had encouraged students to take over the university.

In the tweets, Arévalo congratulated the students at San Carlos University for their protest over the election of a new rector, who the students claimed was corrupt. They also claimed Arévalo's center-left Seed Movement party had used campus buildings to plan their 2023 presidential campaign.

"This evidence leads us to the legal conclusion that these people have committed crimes," prosecutor Ángel Saúl Sánchez said. The prosecutors say they will ask a court to strip Arévalo, the Vice President-elect Karin Herrera and some key allies of their immunity, so they can bring charges.

In an interview with NPR on Monday, Arévalo warned of a modern type of coup happening in his country. "In the 21st century, all over the world, coups are being conducted by lawfare," he said.

Arévalo called the prosecutors actions "spurious and unacceptable".

"We can longer tolerate this political persecution," Arévalo said in a speech in Guatemala City. "Because if they win, Guatemala loses."

Thursday's announcement is the latest in a series of attempts to dislodge Arévalo, an anti-corruption campaigner who stunned the country with his unexpected, landslide victory in the Presidential election in August. The ruling elite had pushed nearly every opposition candidate off the ballot using legal trickery. But they left Arévalo on the ballot, because he was polling terribly.

In a statement, the U.S. called the moves against Arévalo "brazen efforts to undermine Gutaemala's peaceful transition of power."

Edgar Ortiz, a Guatemalan constitutional scholar, told NPR it is clear that the attorney general and some judges are acting "outside every reasonable margin of legality."

"[The government is] trying to strip Arevalo and the V.P. Karin Herrera from their immunity in order to put them in jail and prevent them [from taking] office in January," he said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.