There’s a democratic crisis happening right now in Guatemala.
A populist presidential candidate named Bernardo Arévalo won more than 60 percent of the vote in the country’s final round of elections.
But Arévalo’s transition into office has hit a snag.
He’s been accused of using fraud to get on the ballot and win the election, and his political party has been legally suspended as a consequence. In response, his supporters have formed blockades on streets and highways throughout the country.
Lauren Villagran, reporter for the El Paso times, recently reported from Guatemala. She spoke to the Texas Standard about the protests’ impact. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: You recently reported from Guatemala with a photographer from the El Paso Times. Can you get folks a sense of what it was like to be down there?
Lauren Villagran: Yeah. So as you mentioned, Guatemala is in a deep political crisis. Protests led by indigenous communities throughout the country have shut down major highways and city streets, essentially paralyzing both commerce and any kind of travel. School has been canceled. Major companies have suspended operations, and it’s all to protest what they say is an attempt to meddle in the results of the election in August.
Are these violent protests?
So over the weekend, there were reports of what some of the protesters called infiltrators, but otherwise they’ve been peaceful.
You know, I was on Guatemala’s Highway 2 toward the Mexican border and encountered really just thousands and thousands of people in the street blocking access, but also in solidarity – you know, women bringing food to people who were stuck on the road, the protesters. I mean, there’s a broad sense in society and among the public that the current administration is attempting to to reverse the results of a free and fair democratic election.
What have U.S. officials had to say about this?
The Biden administration has been forceful. They’ve threatened visa restrictions on any “anti-democratic actors” and have called out the current administration for meddling.
What about the current administration and what was the relationship like between the Biden administration and that administration?
So the Biden administration has skin in the game. You know, the Biden administration has wanted to address issues of regional migration by addressing root causes.
They have not found a good partner in Central America. And the newly-elected president who was supposed to take office on Jan. 14, Bernardo Arévalo, has promised to be a partner on that.
Well, is that really going to happen? Is Bernardo Arévalo going to take office on the 14th of January? And if that doesn’t happen, what then? What are the options?
So I think the reason that people are in the street, is because they’re concerned that he won’t. The election is supposed to be certified by the end of this month. And there’s been a lot of attempts by the attorney general to use the judiciary to question the results of the election. So really, the country is at a stalemate right now and it’s paralyzed movement.
What are the implications for migration to the U.S.? Obviously, political upheaval has been one of the leading causes of that net migration.
Yeah, well, you know, while I was along Highway 2, I can tell you that while traffic was paralyzed, there were just hundreds of people walking toward the Mexican border. People from Venezuela, El Salvador, Honduras.
It was just something to witness this massive kind of flow north of people just walking the road, you know, with traffic paralyzed. Basically, migrants, you know, don’t have any transport and they’re just walking. It hasn’t stopped them.