Guatemala prosecutors pursue president-elect and student protesters over campus takeover

GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemalan prosecutors said Thursday they will seek to strip President-elect Bernardo Arévalo and several members of his party of their immunity for allegedly making social media posts that encouraged students to take over a public university in 2022.

Cultural Heritage prosecutor Ángel Saúl Sánchez announced the move aimed at Arévalo and members of his Seed Movement at a news conference while federal agents executed search warrants and sought to arrest more than 30 student members of the party.

It was only the latest legal salvo against Arévalo, an anti-corruption crusader who shocked the nation by winning the presidential election in August. The United States government, Organization of American States and other outside observers have suggested the legal attacks are an attempt to keep Arévalo from taking power in January.

Attorney General Consuelo Porras and outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei have denied political motivations.

Since Arévalo won a spot in the August runoff, prosecutors have been pursuing his party on accusations of wrongdoing in the gathering of the necessary signatures to register years earlier. A judge suspended the party at prosecutors’ request.

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Among the crimes prosecutors plan to pursue against Arévalo and others in the new case are aggravated usurpation, sedition and illegal association.

In April 2022, students took over San Carlos University, Guatemala’s only public university, following what they considered the fraudulent election of the school’s new rector Walter Mazariegos. They said that during the vote by students, faculty and administrators, Mazariegos only allowed those who would vote for him to cast their ballots.

The U.S. State Department sanctioned Mazariegos for suffocating democratic processes and taking the position of rector after what it called a fraudulent process.

The students did not stand down until June of this year.

In the case announced Thursday, one of the examples given in prosecutors’ documents is a message in which Arévalo congratulated the protesters on X, formerly known as Twitter, in March: “the USAC is making it possible to see a ray of hope in Guatemala.”

On Thursday, Arévalo called the Attorney General’s Office’s actions against his party “spurious and unacceptable.”

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It came one day after the Organization of American States permanent council approved a resolution calling Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office an undemocratic actor trying to “discredit and impede” the democratic transition of power.

Marcela Blanco, a young party activist, posted on social media Thursday that agents had come to her home to arrest her and were intimidating her.

“I am a citizen, I am of the people and they are doing this to me for speaking against corruption,” she wrote. “I ask for your support.”