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Prosecutors in Guatemala pursue plans to press charges against the president-elect

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

Earlier this week, you heard the Guatemalan president tell NPR he was facing a coup by lawfare. Now that prediction has come to pass.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Prosecutors in Guatemala say they intend to bring charges against President-elect Bernardo Arevalo. And yesterday, police arrested some of his allies. Arevalo called the charges spurious.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNARDO AREVALO: (Through interpreter) We can no longer tolerate this political persecution because if they win, Guatemala loses.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Eyder Peralta has been following this story. He joins us now from Mexico City. Eyder, what happened yesterday?

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: So look. Beginning in the early morning, police surrounded the homes of some of Bernardo Arevalo's allies. And, you know, Arevalo was brought to power by young people. And we're talking literally just graduated from college young. And some of them were arrested yesterday. They were charged in relation to a protest, the takeover of Guatemala's public university. In one case, we saw one young activist in tears and in handcuffs. And as she was taken to a military prison, her mom hugged her. She gave her a blessing and she told her, quote, "you're good, and God knows it. And the good people always triumph."

But later in the afternoon, prosecutors turned their gaze to the big guy. They announced that they were going to seek charges against the president-elect over that same protest. They showed some tweets from Bernardo Arevalo in which he congratulated the students for standing up to what they say is a corrupt university leader. Prosecutors now say they will ask a court to strip the president and his vice president-elect of their immunity so they can proceed with charges.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So the charges you just described - how real are they? Are they real?

PERALTA: Well, look. When I spoke to the president-elect earlier this week, he warned that this is what would happen, that the government would make up a case against him. One legal scholar I spoke to said that all of these actions were, quote, "outside every reasonable margin of legality." And the United States is taking a similar stance. The State Department called the moves against Bernardo Arevalo, quote, "brazen efforts to undermine Guatemala's peaceful transition of power."

And some context, A - ever since Arevalo won the elections, the Guatemalan government has tried a lot of legal trickery. They've alleged electoral fraud. They've suspended Arevalo's party. They've raided his offices. And even after the election results were certified, they raided the electoral commission's office. Nothing has really stuck. Instead, thousands of people across the country have come out to protest. And the government is now trying something new. They're looking at the president-elect's tweets.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So what happens now?

PERALTA: Look. Last night, I spoke to Jordan Rodas. He's one of the president-elect's allies. And he would have been thrown in jail yesterday, but he was outside of the country. He says that the government right now is acting like a wounded beast. They're afraid that if a rival takes power, they will be prosecuted for corruption, so they will do anything to stay in power, he says. I asked him if there's anything that could be done to stop the government, and he said the U.S. and the European Union have to coordinate their sanctions against the people leading this effort. He says the current sanctions aren't working because, for example, some of the people sanctioned by the U.S. can still fly to Europe. So he's calling for more severe, coordinated sanctions.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta, joining us from Mexico City. Thanks a lot.

PERALTA: Thank you, A.

(SOUNDBITE OF SEASPRAY'S "MONOTATION") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.
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