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Guatemala or the silver bullet of democracy in the Americas


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Juan Diego Molina Méndez

researcher from Institute for Culture and Society of the University of Navarra

Within the group of Latin American countries, Guatemala is not usually mentioned as one of the most important at a political or economic level, despite its privileged geostrategic status . It is perhaps the migration issue that has attracted most attention to the Central American country since, due to its institutional weakness, it usually acts as a bridge for Venezuelan, Nicaraguan, Salvadoran and Honduran expatriates heading for the United States, in addition to being the origin of a good issue of migrants. Nor should we forget the importance of Guatemalan territory in the drug trade in transit from South America to the United States. After the long months of political suspense until the inauguration of the new Guatemalan president, it is necessary to consider the relationship he will have with his neighbors and allies.

The recent election of Bernardo Arévalo means, perhaps, one of the last doors that Guatemala has to get out of the tailspin in which it seems to be plunged and commit itself to its role as a pivot in relevant issues such as migration and drug trafficking control. Undoubtedly, the challenge facing the newly elected president does not have an easy solution and, even less so, when, within the same institutions, he will find a hard civil service examination by the anti-democratic sectors that have been acting against the institutionality of the State for several months to revert the electoral results and keep the government co-opted.

Since the first round of the Guatemalan elections, held on June 20, Arévalo has been the victim of a series of attempts to annul his victory. The Public Prosecutor's Office has been in charge of fabricating spurious accusations against the winning party, as well as against its members and social supporters, in order to prevent forces that promise a profound renovation from coming to power. The Guatemalans have had the support of the Biden administration and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs of the European Union, who have had anti-democratic actors in Guatemala sanctioned with visa cancellations and asset freezes.

From the inauguration of the new government, the strategic vision of the Americans and Europeans, who have been losing ground in the American continent for several years, will be evaluated. The presence of leaders such as Diaz Canel, Maduro or Ortega -to whom AMLO, Petro or Bukele are added-, complicates relations between Western powers due to the openness of these leaders to Chinese investment and cooperation. Guatemala is today one of the only 13 countries that diplomatically recognize Taiwan, after neighboring Honduras, following the election of leftist Xiomara Castro, abandoned that relationship in favor of mainland China. When asked by the press about the relationship with Taiwan, Arevalo has indicated that he does not seek to change the relationship with Taipei, although he indicated his intention to open trade channels with China, which would imply abandoning Guatemala's relationship with the island.

In this sense, it is important to point out that, in the multipolar world in which we live, the anti-American speech of certain Latin American leaders has led them to accept and promote the presence of China in their countries. In this way, the door of countries with incipient democracies has been opened to a country with a dictatorial model and without respect for Human Rights. Guatemala represents in this context one of the last bridgeheads that Western powers and liberal democracy could have in Latin America, so a serious approach to Arevalo's government is necessary.

Despite the attraction that opening relations with mainland China may represent for Arevalo, a slow assessment will be necessary to see what this could mean for his country. If trade relations between the two countries were to be opened, they would necessarily be accompanied by political recognition of the People's Republic of China, thus giving the Asian country direct influence over Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. These three countries, known as the Northern Triangle of Central America, are extremely important for curbing irregular migration and drug trafficking in the hemisphere.

If Bernardo Arevalo came to the Guatemalan presidency with an anti-corruption speech and a focus on rescuing institutions, he would do well to deepen relations with the democratic powers that have helped the country navigate the numerous traps set by criminal groups. The role of the United States and European countries in stabilizing Guatemala's status can help them improve their reputation as guarantors of democracy, equality and respect for the rule of law and show the world that, with all their imperfections, liberal democracy and free markets are the systems that best ensure development and peace.