In one of the best novels of the most recent phase of his career —”Tempos Áridos”, published in Brazil by Alfaguara—, the Peruvian Mario Vargas Llosa reconstructs a historical passage in Guatemala that bears similarities with the current situation in the country.
In the work, the Nobel Prize tells the tragic trajectory of Jacobo Árbenz, a progressive elected military man who governed the nation between 1951 and 1954. Among the reforms he promoted are the end of forced labor by indigenous peoples and the incorporation of labor laws into the Constitution.
However, Árbenz began to gain enemies when he started an agrarian reform project that displeased rural businessmen and the powerful United Fruit Company, an American company that owned vast lands in Guatemala and other countries.
In a pre-internet era, Árbenz became the victim of hostile attacks through fake news and disinformation campaigns. The imposition of a narrative in which Árbenz was labeled a communist and a Soviet employee created the perfect environment for a coup promoted by the CIA, the American intelligence agency, along with Dominican dictator Rafael Leónidas Trujillo and the Guatemalan military, to be easily accepted by the population.
Cut to today’s Guatemala. A few days before the second round of the presidential elections, a candidate who emerged as a surprise in the first round, displacing others preferred by the corrupt national political elite, is also the victim of a fake news campaign, personal attacks and threats that seek to remove him from the race. .
Bernardo Arévalo is not exactly an “outsider”. His father, the also reformist Juan José Arévalo, was Árbenz’s predecessor in the Presidency and ended up having to leave the country after the coup. Because of this, Bernardo was born in Uruguay.
He will face Sandra Torres, who, although she is from the opposition and presents herself as center-left, is conservative and a member of the current Guatemalan establishment — she was first lady of former president Álvaro Colóm.
The arrival of this pair in the final dispute bothers the president, the authoritarian Alejandro Giammattei, who hoped that his successor would be some ally in the field of the right. After a management in which he advanced in a hostile way against the institutions, the opposition and the press, the leader fears being sued and ending up in the dock.
Torres’ presence in the second round displeases him, but not as much as that of the “zebra” of the election, Arévalo, who appears with a progressive, green and anti-corruption speech.
That is why the Guatemalan elections are being threatened. Now, not with the prospect of a military coup, as at that time, but through attempts to cancel the vote and to intimidate, pressure and even suspend Arévalo’s candidacy. Giammattei controls most of the country’s judicial structures.
In a turbulent election season in the region, starting with the primaries in Argentina this Sunday (13) and passing through the Ecuadorian election, scheduled for the 20th, no democracy is more at risk than the Guatemalan one.
Although it is a distant place for Brazil, Guatemala is a strategic country in the region. One of the most economically stable in Central America, it has serious social problems caused by the fact that it is part of international drug trafficking and illegal immigration routes.
The OAS (Organization of American States) arrives this Monday (14) in the capital, Guatemala City, with the mission to monitor the election, and human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch call for the attention of governments in the region and of the international community. As the work of Vargas Llosa shows, history teaches us to identify the danger of authoritarian waves.
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