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Brazil’s Lula warns Guatemala risks a ‘coup’, prompting rebuke at UN

Guatemala’s outgoing president vows to hand over power but condemns foreign meddling at the UN General Debate.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has warned of the “risk of coup” in Guatemala during an address to the United Nations General Assembly, prompting a rebuke from the country’s outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei.

Speaking from the UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday, Lula voiced concerns that the result of Guatemala’s 2023 presidential elections could be overturned.

“In Guatemala, there is a risk of a coup, which would impede the inauguration of the winner of democratic elections,” Lula said during the General Debate, an event that allows world leaders to speak on whatever topics they choose.

But hours later, it was Giammattei’s turn to take the podium — and he pushed back against Lula’s allegations.

“Contrary to the supposed truths we’ve heard from this podium today, I will hand over power to the person who was elected in the elections,” Giammattei said.

He further condemned “unnecessary international involvement” in the election.

Guatemala president
Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei addresses the 78th Session of the UN General Assembly in New York City on September 19 [Mike Segar/Reuters]

“That involvement and interference was unnecessary because our democracy is not perfect, but it has been a democracy which has allowed us to have the peaceful handover of power and respect for the constitution,” he added.

The high-profile back-and-forth comes a day after the US Ambassador to the Organization of American States, Francisco Mora, said Washington was concerned about efforts to undermine democracy in Guatemala.

He pointed to recent actions by Guatemala’s top prosecutor’s office that appear to target President-elect Bernardo Arevalo, the anti-corruption candidate who won the August 20 run-off election.

Since he emerged as a frontrunner in the election, Arevalo has seen his political party, the Seed Movement, threatened with suspension.

Prosecutors under Attorney General María Consuelo Porras have also sought court orders to raid the Seed Movement’s headquarters, as well as the offices of Guatemala’s election authority.

A police raid last week involved police opening boxes with sealed ballots, a move that prompted international outcry.

“In a healthy democracy, institutions don’t tamper with ballot boxes after election results have been officially certified by the appropriate authority,” Mora said.

He called the act “an assault on the rule of law” and called on authorities in Guatemala to end their “intimidation efforts”.

The attorney general’s office has maintained it is following the law.

For his part, Arevalo briefly suspended his participation in the government transition to protest the prosecutors’ actions. He has also called for Porras and other officials to resign.

Those calls were echoed on the streets of Guatemala this week, as Arevalo appealed to his supporters to march in defence of the country’s election integrity.

On Tuesday, thousands of Indigenous supporters and farmers erected 14 blockades along the country’s seven main highways and several streets in the capital, Guatemala City, to demonstrate against the alleged election interference.

On Monday, a coalition of academic and rights groups also issued a statement urging international pressure to ensure Guatemala respects the election results.

Arevalo is scheduled to take office in January.

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