Guatemala: the 2023 elections and the National Strike against the coup

On Saturday 30 September, at a General Assembly the indigenous and peasant communities of Guatemala called a National Strike to demand that the result of August’s election be respected. The strike has extended to the capital and has drawn in various sections of society. This article was written on 6 October, the fifth day of the indefinite strike, and at the time of writing, demonstrators were also demanding the resignation of the attorney general and other prosecutors that have sought to interfere in the electoral process.

In June and August 2023, presidential elections were held in Guatemala over two rounds. 9 million voters participated. In the first round, a dozen candidates competed. In the end, two candidates made it through to the second round with 60 percent of the vote between them.

On the one hand, you had Arévalo of the Semilla party, which emerged from historic mobilisations in 2015. On the other, you had right-winger Sandra Torres. Arévalo emerged triumphant in the second round, leading to illegal interference on the part of the Public Prosecution Service (Ministerio Público, MP), which went before the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) to have the results dismissed. This coup d'état in the making has aroused indignation and anger among the peasant and working-class masses.

The Public Prosecutor defends a corrupt system

Ever since Consuelo Porras ascended to the MP in 2018, the Public Prosecution has become a well-honed weapon for organising the defence of the corrupt and the oligarchy. This prosecutor is a faithful representative in the state apparatus of the national oligarchy.

María Consuelo Porras Image CARLOS SEBASTIÁN Wikimedia CommonsEver since Consuelo Porras ascended to the MP in 2018, the Public Prosecution has become a well-honed weapon for organising the defence of the corrupt and the oligarchy / Image: CARLOS SEBASTIÁN, Wikimedia Commons

The MP has systematically halted investigations and prosecutions conquered by masses mobilisation on the streets since 2015. Meanwhile, the press has been persecuted, while figures critical of the regime have been subject to accusations. In this period, individuals such as Thelma Aldana, Andrei González, Claudia Escobar Mejia, Juan Francisco Sandoval and anti-corruption judges and prosecutors have had to head into exile to avoid becoming victims of the witch hunt unleashed by the Attorney General and President Giammattei.

Throughout the electoral process, the MP has been the sharp end of the wedge for the regime. Among the irregularities it has been engaged in, we’ve seen the blocking of three candidates that stood out in the opinion polls, including indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera who was the favourite candidate in the polls. There was also an attempt to rule out the Semilla party at the end of the first round of elections, a process that is still ongoing. These irregularities have been denounced by social organisations and international observers, and have even been covered by the international media.  

The BBC reported on Guatemala on 1 October:

“Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office raided the headquarters of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) in Guatemala City and took away several boxes containing the original minutes of the results of the presidential elections held on 20 August, in an operation that took place between Friday and Saturday.”

Meanwhile, Europa Press reported on 24 August:

“The Guatemalan Public Prosecutor’s Office has requested this Wednesday to remove the immunity of three magistrates of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), including the president of the body, for the alleged crimes of breach of duty, abuse of authority and the implementation of resolutions that would have violated the Constitution.”

The National Strike and the resistance of the oligarchy

The MP’s interference in the election results was met with the announcement of a National Strike that began on 2 October, organised by the indigenous peasants’ group, ‘48 Cantones de Totonicapán’. This organisation has put out a combative call to extend the National Strike in defence of August’s election results, closing the main arteries in the north of the country and the borders with Mexico and El Salvador.

This blatant use of the state apparatus – particularly of the Public Prosecutor’s Office by the hated and corrupt Consuelo Porras – has only radicalised the peasant and working-class masses. They have gone from expressing their discontent through the ballot box to organising the strike.

The TSE has already given its final verdict, although there remain the bare minimum processes to complete, which will extend until 30 October. However, these final electoral processes won’t change the final result of the elections that give Arévalo as the winner.

The political representatives of the oligarchy, grouped in what is commonly known as the “ pact of the corrupt”, which encompasses the old parties of the Guatemalan regime, are doing everything possible to halt the process of transferring power to the president-elect. Their main tool, for now, is the Public Prosecutor’s Office.

It should be emphasised that, based on the experience of the workers’ struggle, we know that the regime will not hesitate to use repressive force against the masses who demand that the decision of the ballot box be respected.

This is another clear example of how the national oligarchies and imperialism will not give up power and their privileges easily, not even in the most optimistic dreams of the reformists. 

Bernardo Arévalo’s programme

The case of Guatemala and Bernardo Arévalo is both revealing and educational. It shows that even a party, a candidate and a programme that do not go beyond the limits of capitalism will face resistance from the ruling class.

BA Image Gobierno de Guatemala Wikimedia CommonsThe case of Guatemala and Bernardo Arévalo is both revealing and educational / Image: Gobierno de Guatemala, Wikimedia Commons

Bernardo Arévalo, son of former president Juan José Arévalo, one of Guatemala’s most progressive presidents, won the presidency with a programme very different from that of his father. Arévalo Jr’s programme does not propose radical changes outside the bounds of bourgeois democracy. Whereas Arévalo Sr at least made agrarian reform, in the times of the murderous Fruit Company, the emblematic struggle of his government, his son’s party bases its programme on the fight against corruption, social justice and environmental protection through minor concrete changes to the capitalist system.

The Guatemalan oligarchy is not so much afraid of Arévalo as what his candidacy might inspire among the people. We have seen how his candidacy seemed to come from nowhere. None of the opinion polls indicated that Arévalo’s candidacy stood a chance, whereas the former first lady was presented as the virtual winner in advance.

The ruling class controlled institutions were quick to eliminate Torres’ most immediate competition. But they failed to anticipate that the anger and discontent of the oppressed would express itself instead through the candidate of the Semilla party, at least until the results of the first round came in and showed a run-off between Arévalo and Torres. This was totally unexpected. In the absence of a working-class party, the masses have expressed themselves using the only instrument to hand.

What kind of party is Semilla?

Semilla emerged first as a movement and then as a party following the mobilisations of 2015, when the masses forced the resignation of the corrupt and hated president, Otto Pérez Molina. Since then, a group of intellectuals began a process of building a party that could lead the struggles of the oppressed layers of Guatemalan society.

Many things can be said about the Semilla party, but what cannot be said is that it opposes capitalism. Quite the contrary. Semilla is a party that declares itself in favour of liberal democracy, and its objective is based on the fight against corruption in order to re-establish the liberal democratic balance that has been lost in Guatemala in recent years.

Of course, within its objectives are a certain minimum of progressive demands, rights that have been taken away by the rotten oligarchy of the country, or in the worst case that have never been enjoyed in the country, such as indigenous rights, environmental protections, and the rights of women and oppressed groups. None of its proposals, however, attack the privileges of the rich.

These demands, although unobjectionable, do not solve the root problem the country is facing. They are akin to cleaning up the capitalist state of the many stains that corrupt hands have left on it, whilst keeping the exploitation and oppression of the system intact. It is fighting for “capitalism with a human face”.

The Semilla party is a petty-bourgeois, liberal party. In the absence of a genuine working-class party that proposes profound changes to end exploitation and oppression, the masses will, as they have before, seek out any alternative through which they might express themselves. The vacuum has been filled, on this occasion, by the party of Bernardo Arévalo. The most urgent task of the Guatemalan working class and peasants is to build an independent party of the oppressed and to take up the struggle to overthrow the capitalist system, which is the source of all the ills suffered by the Guatemalan people.

Weakness of the regime

One of the clearest expressions of the discontent of the working masses in Guatemala is their contempt for the institutions of the state. No state institution is spared from the biting criticism of the masses. In fact, the elections did not have the highest voter turnout. Abstention was the clearest trend of the elections’ first round. The ruling out of candidates and sudden emergence of Semilla in the second round radicalised the vote, not in favour of the Semilla party, but against the corrupt system.

The oligarchy knows full well that beneath the surface, major events are being prepared. One false step and the working masses can paralyse the country. One of the aims of the ruling class is no doubt to prevent political plots, corruption and kick-backs for the country’s tycoons from being uncovered should Arévalo become president. The uncovering of corruption may encourage the masses to make demands beyond the limits of bourgeois democracy. This is what the ruling class fears now, and this is what it is trying to prevent with the help of the MP and every means at its disposal.

For the last decade, Guatemala has been a country swept by constant revolutionary turmoil, second only to Honduras in the Central American region. The Guatemalan masses have taken to the streets time and again to make their demands, overthrowing presidents in 2015, and even burning down the legislative palace in 2020.

We can safely say that this is a developing process that advances, stagnates and sometimes regresses, but that it is taking shape over time. In its development, it is showing great revolutionary potential. It is precisely this process that the bourgeoisie fears, and which it undoubtedly is attempting to contain through the use of state institutions such as the MP and its representatives, such as Attorney General Consuelo Porras and Rafael Curruchiche.

BA Sitting Image Gobierno de Guatemala Wikimedia CommonsAn immediate resolution that excludes Arévalo could trigger a large-scale movement in Guatemala, and even an insurrection / Image: Gobierno de Guatemala, Wikimedia Commons

Big business and the US

National business and US imperialism are involved in this plan. The Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF), the main chamber of business in the country, is feeling the threat a triumph by the working people at the polls represents. Unable to buy the vote or carry off an electoral fraud, it is now trying to stage a reactionary coup d'état to maintain the stability of the regime for the protection of its own interests.

The United States, the Organisation of American States (OAS) and the European Union have, in words, condemned the judges involved in the coup. However, we should be in no doubt that behind the machinations of the coup there stands US imperialism, which is always intervening in the region.

The situation is now complicated. An immediate resolution that excludes Arévalo, by challenging the elections or something similar, could trigger a large-scale movement in Guatemala, and even an insurrection. They could also try gradually wearing down the masses on the streets until they tire. To prevent this outcome, the strike must spread to all regions and bring the whole country under its control.

Perspectives for the National Strike

The leaders of the indigenous peasant population, women, youth and trade unions in struggle must understand that Guatemala is on the verge of a coup d'état. The ruling class will not give up its privileges easily and will do everything possible to maintain control of its state. This cannot be fought with weak appeals for peace and respect for the processes of bourgeois democracy, nor with appeals to the international community.

The sad history of the Latin American working class has shown time and again that a passive attitude often leads to bloody defeats for the labour movement. The oppressed of Guatemala have only one reliable ally: all those suffering daily from the exploitation and oppression of the regime. Only in them can the prospects for revolutionary victory be entrusted.

The consequences of a coup against the elected president would be devastating for indigenous people, peasants, youth and workers in general. If the coup succeeds, we are likely to face the installation of an illegitimate regime that will repress those who challenge its power, resulting in more persecutions, assassinations and exiles of movement leaders. It could become much worse than what the regime’s critics have so far experienced. The struggle of the oppressed classes, which has advanced in recent years with significant gains, could be set back by the implementation of a military police state.

Therefore, the immediate task of the leaders of the movement must be to call an indefinite general strike of all the oppressed sectors of the country. Extending the strike to the communities, universities, high schools and, above all, to the workplaces all over the country will help to consolidate the struggle against the coup.

The indigenous people organised in the ‘48 Cantones’ have strong traditions of assemblies. The Guatemalan youth and working class must emulate these practices, and extend them to the whole country in order to fight not only for democratic demands, but for deeper demands that affect the living conditions of the Guatemalans. 

Call for workers’ self-defence

Faced with the threat of military repression, which will not be long in coming as events deepen, the leadership of the movement must move into action, organising self-defence committees in all the places where the strike spreads.

The bourgeoisie will not hesitate to unleash repression if necessary. The leaders must not have a passive attitude, calling for “peace”. On the contrary, we must move to organise self-defence against repression by the state. We cannot afford to have more martyrs in our cause for liberation, and this can only be prevented by moving into action, through revolutionary self-defence.

For a revolutionary national assembly

The indigenous, peasant and proletarian organisations must fight to dismantle all the institutions that the ruling class uses to impose its exploitation. They must sweep away the whole rotten capitalist state.

The only way the Guatemalan working class can end its long and painful suffering at the hands of a stubborn and murderous oligarchy is by taking control of the country, by convening a revolutionary national assembly of democratically elected delegates from all sectors engaged in struggle, which will agitate for a revolutionary programme focusing on measures that will put an end to the deepest problems faced by the working class.

It is not enough to fight for demands that remain restricted within the limits of a bourgeois-democratic. It is not enough to touch up the old capitalist state. It must be replaced through coordinating an assembly of elected delegates. Only control of the country by the people can save the people.

A revolutionary national assembly of delegates must consider measures such as revolutionary agrarian reform, control of industry and land, expulsion of foreign capitalist multinationals, planning the economy and production on the basis of the real needs of society. The banks must be nationalised under the control of the revolutionary people, and used to solve the social problems of the poorest in the country.

The indigenous peasants have already given examples of revolutionary sacrifice. We must fight against the system to impose the will of the revolutionary assemblies of the working people and expel once and for all the businessmen, landowners and bankers who impose the most ruthless poverty and exploitation. There is no other way. Only the revolutionary struggle can offer Guatemala a different future for the new generations and make the country a truly beautiful place to live.

  • For the extension of the strike to all oppressed layers!
  • For a revolutionary national assembly of democratically elected delegates!
  • For workers’ self-defence!
  • For a revolutionary programme to drive out the foreign capitalists and expropriate the big national capitalists!
  • Out with CACIF!
  • Long live the struggle of the indigenous people, the peasants and the proletariat! 
  • Long live the struggle of the working class! 
  • From comrades in El Salvador: international workers’ solidarity!

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