Guatemala's president-elect says he's ready to call people onto the streets

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — President-elect Bernardo Arévalo plans to call Guatemalans into the streets next week to protest efforts to derail his presidency before he can take office, he said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press.

It would be Arévalo's first such request since winning the election Aug. 20. Since his landslide victory, the attorney general’s office has continued pursuing multiple investigations related to the registration of Arévalo’s Seed Movement party, and alleged fraud in the election. International observers have said that is not supported by evidence.

Arévalo said he has tried his own legal maneuvers to stop those who want to keep him from power, but now it’s necessary for the people to come out to the streets to support him. He said he wants to see businesspeople, farmers, Indigenous groups, and workers all come out to reject what has been happening.

It wouldn't be the protest of one party, or oneself, against the system, but rather of “a people that feels cheated, against a system that is trying to mock them,” Arévalo said.

Arévalo, a progressive lawmaker and academic, shocked Guatemala by making it into an Aug. 20 presidential runoff in which he beat former first lady Sandra Torres by more than 20 points.

The attorney general’s office has said it is only following the law, but has come under intense criticism within Guatemala and abroad for what appears to be a brazen attempt to keep Arévalo from coming to power, or to weaken him.

Still, Arévalo said that he is committed to what lies ahead, and conscious that his movement has managed to create hope in Guatemalans. He said he has been overwhelmed by demonstrations of support, including those who drive by his home honking their car horns at night, or yelling “Best wishes, Uncle Bernie!” a nickname that his younger supporters have popularized.

Arévalo was realistic about what he would be able to accomplish in four years as president, characterizing his administration as a start.

“Hundreds of years of marginalization, discrimination, the accumulated problems of 30 years of corrupt assault on power aren’t just going to disappear because we’re here,” he said. “But if we can start to change, to make the people feel that there are authorities who respond to them.”

This week, agents from the Attorney General’s Office opened boxes of votes and photographed their contents in an unprecedented violation of Guatemala’s electoral law.

Arévalo called for Attorney General Consuelo Porras’ resignation and said he would temporarily suspend the process of transition from outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei.

Arévalo said that even within the country’s flawed democracy, the sanctity of the vote had been preserved, “and there we had the prosecutor … staining with his hands that sacred democratic place.”

Arévalo said is encouraged that Guatemalans nationwide seem to appreciate what is happening, and reject it.

“Here there is a national problem,” Arévalo said. “What is at stake is not the future of (the Seed Movement party). What is at stake is the reality, the viability of democratic institutions.”