by Grahame Russell, © 2023 Truthout. [Excerpt]

On August 20, 2023, the Semilla Party’s Bernardo Arévalo and Karin Herrera were elected president and vice president of Guatemala.

This election will bring a formal end to 69 years of anti-democratic, military-backed, corrupt, “open-for-global-business” governments [since a 1954-US-backed coup–Ed.], when the transition of power takes place on January 14, 2024. “The Supreme Electoral Tribunal has recognized the results and what the people have shouted is, ‘No more corruption,’” President-elect Arévalo said in an August 20 press conference.

But Arévalo’s election won’t bring an end to the interests of an alliance of corrupt judges, prosecutors, politicians, and economic and military elites known as the “Covenant of the Corrupt,” who have run the country for decades.

These elites, who now have to vacate the executive branch of government for at least four years, retain considerable control over most branches of the state and most institutions of the government. They dominate all sectors of Guatemala’s exploitative economy.

As millions of long dispossessed, impoverished Guatemalans, a majority being Indigenous Mayan peoples, celebrate the Semilla Party’s victory, seemingly impossible-to-overcome challenges still remain within its borders — challenges the incoming government will have to address and work to remedy.

But before it can get to work remedying the country’s systemic inequalities, the party will have to overcome ongoing “lawfare” attacks against its members, who face potential arrest on trumped-up charges. By legally attacking the Semilla Party, the Covenant of the Corrupt, which controls the attorney general’s office, hopes to render the Semilla Party itself illegal, leaving Arévalo and Herrera as an independent president and vice president. Such attacks are also targeting the role of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal in officializing the final vote count.

Guatemala faces just as many challenges from outside its borders, namely the policies and actions of the United States-led “international community,” including Canada, the European Union, World Bank, International Monetary Fund, and countless transnational companies operating in partnership with Covenant of Corrupt elites in the sectors of for-export food production, mining, tourism, hydroelectric dams and maquiladora sweatshop garment production.

What would Guatemala be like today as a government and people if the U.S. had not planned and orchestrated a military coup in 1954?

The June 27, 1954, “bitter fruit” coup violently ended Guatemala’s only period of actual democracy, from 1944-1954, crushing 10 years of social, economic, land and human rights reforms that the governments of President Juan Jose Arévalo (father of President-elect Bernardo Arévalo) and President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman were working to implement.

The coup restored to power the traditional military-backed economic and political elites who had been in power from 1931-1944, during the U.S.-backed dictatorship of Gen. Jorge Ubico — precursors to Guatemala’s Covenant of Corrupt governments of today.

After refusing to establish diplomatic relations with the democratically elected governments in power from 1944-1954, Canada effectively legitimized the 1954 coup by establishing diplomatic relations with the military-backed government in 1961.

Soon after, the Canadian government openly supported the arrival of the world’s biggest nickel mining company at the time, the International Nickel Company, known as INCO, to take control of a vast swath of Mayan Q’eqchi’ territories and begin long history of violent, harmful and corrupt mining that continue today.

Grahame Russell has worked on human rights issues in Guatemala since 1989. Since 1995, he has been director of Rights Action. A non-practicing lawyer and part-time adjunct professor at University of Northern British Columbia, Grahame, together with Catherine Nolin, coauthored and co-edited TESTIMONIO – Canadian Mining in the Aftermath of Genocides in Guatemala.

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