A Guatemalan choose walked into a gathering on the American Embassy final spring and pulled out a big amount of money: The cash, she mentioned, was a bribe from one of many president’s closest allies.
The choose, Blanca Alfaro, helps lead the authority that oversees the nation’s elections. She claimed the cash had been given to her to achieve affect over the electoral company, in line with a U.S. official briefed on the encounter and an individual who was current and requested anonymity to debate the main points of a personal assembly.
American diplomats had been shocked by the brazenness of the episode, however not by the allegations. Within the risky political local weather consuming Guatemala within the run-up to presidential elections on Sunday, there was one fixed: a gentle drumbeat of assaults on democratic establishments by these in energy.
In a rustic that has shifted from a staging floor for rooting out corruption to 1 the place dozens of anticorruption officers have been pressured into exile, the primary spherical of voting shall be as a lot about who will not be on the poll as who’s.
The nation’s electoral company has disqualified each severe candidate within the race who might problem the established order, which is embodied by President Alejandro Giammattei, a conservative who critics accuse of pushing the nation towards autocracy and who’s barred from working for an additional time period.
The remaining front-runners are folks with hyperlinks to some section of the political or financial elite. Alongside their names on the poll shall be a number of clean packing containers, representing 4 candidates excluded from the method by the electoral authority.
Decide Alfaro advised American officers that she had obtained the bribe from Miguel Martínez, a shut confidant of Mr. Giammattei’s and a key official in his occasion, mentioned the one that attended the assembly and the U.S. official.
She mentioned the cash she had along with her amounted to 50,000 Guatemalan quetzales (the equal of greater than $6,000), in line with the one that was current.
The Occasions has not substantiated Decide Alfaro’s declare that she was bribed. In an interview, Ms. Alfaro denied that she went to the embassy and made the allegation.
“I’ve no relationship with Miguel Martínez,” she advised The New York Occasions. “I doubt that fifty,000 quetzales might be introduced into the embassy since you undergo so many safety measures.”
Mr. Martínez denied giving Decide Alfaro a bribe, saying he had by no means met along with her. He mentioned he was conscious of an effort by individuals who had been unable to take part within the elections “to get me concerned in some authorized state of affairs” with the American Embassy.
“Now we’re realizing that that is the authorized state of affairs they’re attempting to contain me in,” Mr. Martínez mentioned, “to have an effect on the electoral course of that’s being carried out in a clear and democratic method.”
Later, Mr. Martínez advised reporters that The Occasions would quickly publish an account of Ms. Alfaro’s journey to the embassy in a press release captured on video and circulated extensively on social media. “That is one thing malicious they wish to do to destabilize the elections,” Mr. Martínez mentioned within the video.
When requested in regards to the Ms. Alfaro’s allegations and the embassy’s response, a State Division spokeswoman, Christina Tilghman, mentioned, “We don’t verify the existence of alleged conferences nor talk about the contents of diplomatic discussions.”
Ms. Tilghman mentioned that at any time when the American authorities receives allegations of corruption that “meet evidentiary necessities underneath U.S. rules and regulation,” it imposes sanctions or in any other case punishes these concerned.
The actions of the electoral authority have led civil rights teams to query whether or not Sunday’s presidential contest can actually be thought of free and honest.
“Legality will not be the identical as legitimacy,” mentioned Juan Francisco Sandoval, a former anticorruption prosecutor who now lives in america and is among the many dozens of prosecutors and judges who’ve gone into exile in recent times.
The vote, he mentioned, shall be marred each by “arbitrary rulings” on who was allowed to run, and a surge in illicit marketing campaign financing utilizing public funds.
Although from totally different ideological backgrounds, not less than three of the excluded candidates had been considered as unsettling to Guatemala’s political institution.
Certainly one of them, Carlos Pineda, positioned himself as an outsider businessman and used TikTok to develop into a front-runner within the polls.
“They went after us as a result of we had been climbing a lot within the polls that we might make historical past by successful within the first spherical,” mentioned Mr. Pineda, referring to the truth that if nobody wins greater than 50 p.c of the vote, a runoff shall be held between the highest two candidates. “This election is illegitimate.”
One other barred candidate, Thelma Cabrera, is a leftist from a Maya Mam household attempting to arrange Guatemala’s Indigenous peoples, who account for roughly half the inhabitants, right into a unified political power. A 3rd, Roberto Arzú, is a right-wing scion of a political household who had positioned himself as an opponent of the nation’s elites.
Mr. Giammattei, prohibited by regulation from in search of re-election, has remained silent in regards to the barring of a number of high contenders. The race has largely develop into a contest amongst three main candidates who’re considered as offering some continuity with the established order.
Sandra Torres was the primary girl from 2008 to 2011, when she was married to President Álvaro Colom. They divorced when Ms. Torres first sought to run for president in 2011 (Guatemalan regulation prohibits a president’s relations from working for workplace).
Ms. Torres was arrested in 2019 in reference to marketing campaign finance violations, however the case was dismissed by a choose in 2022 simply weeks earlier than campaigning formally obtained underway, permitting her to run. Her platform highlights guarantees to increase social applications, together with money transfers for the poor.
One other main candidate, Zury Ríos, is the daughter of Efraín Ríos Montt, a dictator of Guatemala within the early Eighties who ordered excessive ways towards a guerrilla insurgency and was convicted of genocide in 2013 for attempting to exterminate the Ixil, a Mayan folks indigenous to Guatemala.
Ms. Ríos has been unrepentant about her father’s actions, going as far as to deny this yr that the genocide occurred. An evangelical Christian, she gained recognition amongst conservatives after allying with figures in search of to blunt anticorruption initiatives. When she served in Congress, she emphasised ladies’s points, however on the presidential marketing campaign path she has harassed adopting hard-line safety insurance policies to fight crime.
One other high contender, Edmond Mulet, is a former diplomat who typically hews to conservative views. Mr. Mulet, whose proposals embrace increasing web entry and offering free medicines, has criticized the persecution of journalists and prosecutors, however has additionally solid ties with highly effective entrenched political figures, avoiding the destiny of excluded candidates.
Polls in latest weeks counsel that not one of the three are anticipated to come back near successful a majority of the votes on Sunday, which might power a runoff on Aug. 30.
The competition, consultants mentioned, lays naked how efficient Guatemala’s energy brokers have been at extinguishing any actual supply of dissent.
“The weaponization of the judicial system is driving a number of the brightest minds within the nation to go away and intimidating anybody that’s left,” mentioned Regina Bateson, a scholar on the College of Ottawa who makes a speciality of Guatemala. The end result, she mentioned, is an “election undermining democracy.”