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America Just Did the Right Thing in Latin America

Guatemalan President Bernardo Arévalo’s inauguration, delayed by nine hours amid a last-ditch effort to prevent him from taking office, illustrates the challenges he faces from corrupt elites. It also underscores the value of US diplomacy and suggests a model for stemming the rising tide of authoritarianism in Latin America.

CARTAGENA – By facilitating the inauguration of Guatemalan President Bernardo Arévalo, despite a last-ditch effort to overturn his landslide election victory, US President Joe Biden has reaffirmed his longstanding commitment to defending democracies around the world. Moreover, by thwarting a coup d’état in Central America’s most populous country, the United States may have created a model for containing the spread of authoritarianism.

Guatemala’s democracy has been in jeopardy since 2019, when then-President Jimmy Morales kicked out the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an anti-corruption body established by the United Nations in 2006. Morales, a former comedian, launched a massive crackdown on prosecutors and judges investigating his own misconduct and that of high-level officials, causing many legal professionals to flee the country. Among those forced into exile was former Supreme Court President and Attorney-General Thelma Aldana, who was considered a leading presidential candidate at the time.

The crackdown intensified under Morales’s successor, Alejandro Giammattei. In June, José Rubén Zamora, the founder and editor of the newspaper elPeriódico, was sentenced to six years in prison on trumped-up money-laundering charges – a decision condemned by human-rights organizations as an assault on press freedom. ElPeriódico, renowned for its investigations of government corruption, was forced to shut down in May. Although an appellate court overturned Zamora’s sentence in October, he remains behind bars.