International bodies reject moves to block Guatemala president-elect from taking office

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — International and regional leaders have rejected the latest attempt by Guatemalan prosecutors to prevent progressive President-elect Bernardo Arévalo from taking office on Jan. 14.

Prosecutors asked a court Friday to strip Arévalo of his legal immunity and alleged that minutes seized during a raid of electoral offices showed that results from the presidential runoff vote he won in August had irregularities and were therefore void.

Arévalo said the prosecution was seeking to undermine his ability to govern. Guatemala's high electoral court, the Organization of American States and officials from the United Nations, the British Foreign Office and the European Union echoed his sentiment.

“Friday’s announcements, aimed at nullifying the outcome of the general elections and questioning the constitution and existence of the Movimiento Semilla party, are extremely disturbing,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said in a statement issued Saturday.

The Organization of American States and the EU were among a number of entities that sent observers to monitor the election and confirmed that voting adhered to democratic standards.

The victory of Arévalo and his Seed Movement party posed a threat to those who have long wielded power in Guatemala. The anti-corruption crusader has been a target of legal salvos for month, including arrests of party members, raids and repeated court requests to lift his immunity so prosecutors can investigate him directly.

Türk said he was encouraged that Guatemalans have “been standing up for their rights” by protesting prosecutors' efforts to invalidate the election. He called on federal authorities to preserve and respect human rights, including freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly.

Meanwhile, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Bornell said Friday that the EU was contemplating sanctions on those attempting to reverse the vote by Guatemalans.

“These latest actions and statements of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Guatemala represent an attempt at a coup d’etat, spearheaded by politically motivated prosecutors," Borrell said in a statement. “They show contempt for the clear will of Guatemala’s citizens.”

The Organization of American States announced it would hold another discussion about the political crisis on Tuesday and potentially sign a resolution on the actions putting a democratic transition of power at risk.

The Guatemalan government has tried to disassociate itself from the actions of the prosecutor’s office by highlighting the country's separation of powers. But many also blame the current president, Alejandro Giammattei, for agreeing to moves by Attorney General Consuelo Porras, whom he has called his friend.

The U.S. government has sanctioned Porra twice for undermining democracy in the country and hindering the fight against corruption.

Amid the mounting criticism of the attempts to nullify the election, the presidency issued a statement rejecting what it dubbed “hasty pronouncements by some actors in the international community.”

“We're calling on the international community to be prudent before issuing statements that could generate internal polarization and to see for yourself the will by the government to carry out the transition and passing on of presidential power, which has already begun,” the presidency said.