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Central America’s shift toward authoritarianism accelerates

for more For more than 30 years, José Rubén Zamora’s newspaper has fought corruption in Guatemala, making enemies along the way. On 29 July, police raided Mr. Zamora’s home and arrested him. He appeared in court this week on charges including money laundering and extortion. According to anticorruption prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche, the publisher was arrested not for his journalistic work but for his “business activities,” as he allegedly tried to exchange about $40,000 in cash for a man accused of corruption. A check from a former banker who is now cooperating with authorities. Mr Zamora said he was the victim of a “witch hunt”. Many Guatemalans believed him. His arrest is another milestone in what appears to be a return to authoritarian rule in the country.

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For most of Mr Zamora’s career, democracy in Guatemala, a country of 17 million people, has stalled. The long-running civil war between leftist guerrillas and the military dictatorship, which killed some 200,000 people, ended in a peace deal in 1996. The economy grew steadily. But about half of Guatemalans, many of them indigenous, live on less than $5.50 a day (adjusted for local purchasing power), and the country has the fourth highest rate of child malnutrition in the world. Its biggest export is people: the 1.5 million or more Guatemalans living in the U.S. send home remittances equivalent to 15 percent of the U.S. population gross domestic product 2020.

Reformers have blamed many of the country’s ills on the corruption of entrenched power structures, which, as opposition lawmaker Bernardo Arevalo put it, “political criminal networks of big business, organized crime and politicians becoming businessmen.” .The network was on the defensive after a reforming president invited the United Nations to set up an anti-corruption commission in 2006 citizen. Working with dynamic district attorneys and judges, citizen Make sure to convict the ex-president. Another president, Otto Pérez Molina, a retired general, resigned in 2015 after street demonstrations persuaded Congress to remove his immunity from prosecution. Since then, he has spent years in preventive detention on customs fraud charges.

but citizen Too much. Led most recently by Colombian prosecutor Iván Velásquez, who became the country’s defense minister this week, it seeks criminal charges against Mr Perez’s successor, Jimmy Morales , because Morales claimed he had no knowledge of the campaign finance violations.Mr Morales refuses to renew contract citizentask. It left in 2018.

The government of the conservative Alejandro Giammattei, who won in 2019, continues to attack the Guatemalan judiciary. The government’s allies in Congress blocked the constitutional court and installed a compliant justice minister, Consuelo Porras. More than two dozen prosecutors and judges, as well as several journalists, were forced into exile; others have been arrested. “The political class is united in support” of impunity for corruption, said Daniel Haering, a political scientist in Guatemala City.

Many in Washington worry about the weakness of democracy and the rule of law in Central America, a large source of immigration. Under the leadership of Daniel Ortega, Nicaragua became a dictatorship. President Nayib Bukele, El Salvador’s popular strongman, has taken control of Congress and the judiciary and has jailed some 45,000 suspected gang members. Former Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernández is in a New York jail on drug charges; the country’s future under a new leftist government is uncertain. Joe Biden’s administration has named and sanctioned 36 Guatemalans, mostly officials and business people, calling them “corrupt and undemocratic actors” in Central America. They include Ms Porras and Mr Curruchiche, who both deny wrongdoing. However, US pressure has so far proven ineffective.

The fear now is that next year’s general election will be rigged. In 2019, the Constitutional Court rejected the candidacy of Thelma Aldana, a popular former attorney general who fought with the citizen who might win. Support was just 19% in the most recent poll identifier Gallup’s Mr Giammattei, who is constitutionally barred from re-election, is one of Latin America’s most unpopular presidents. But his supporters dream of building allies by blocking more candidates this time, Mr Haering argues. They may manage it. The opposition fell apart and the streets were silent. Guatemala’s political class includes more people like Mr. Giammattei.

Read more from our Latin America columnist Bello:
Energy subsidies in Latin America are good politics, but bad policy (July 28)
Latin American Politicians Yearn for Utopia (July 23)
Migrant flows in the Americas are changing (July 14)

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