Recent Unrest in Guatemala Could Resurface As Guatemala’s New President Takes the Helm
Despite a recent ruling by the Guatemalan Constitutional Court to uphold election results and guarantee the inauguration of the new Guatemalan President-elect Bernardo Arevalo, he and his incoming government have faced a myriad of challenges to his election status, casting a shadow over the legitimacy of his victory. Allegations of electoral irregularities and concerns about the transparency of the election process have surfaced, prompting calls for investigations into the validity of the results. Opposition parties and civic groups have raised questions about the fairness of the electoral process, pointing to instances of potential voter suppression, irregularities in the vote-counting procedures, and allegations of tampering with the electoral system. These challenges not only undermine the confidence of the electorate but also pose a substantial obstacle to the President-elect’s ability to govern with a unified mandate.
As recently as October, protests against electoral interference and in support of the electoral results provided a window into the potential disruptions facing the country even after Arevalo’s pending inauguration. While largely peaceful, demonstrators also blocked roads causing not only food and fuel shortages but also an estimated loss of 366 million USD in Guatemalan exports, and millions in estimated losses for regional exporters of goods to Guatemala, such as El Salvador with an estimated loss of about 3.38 million USD a day during the height of demonstrations in October which lasted a little over week. Violent clashes did occur before the protests wound down, with one death recorded as several dozen people carrying firearms and blunt weapons such as planks and stones attempted to break up a protest in Western Guatemala. Another layer to the unrest lies in the participation of marginalized indigenous groups in the protests who previously have had limited interest in supporting any particular past elections, and with their presence comes an additional sense of urgency for organizations dedicated to monitoring the country for any human rights violations.
Multilateral organizations such as the Organization of American States (OAS) have labeled attempts by prosecutors to nullify the election results as an ‘attempted coup’, while the UN human rights chief called the attempts to undermine the president-elect ‘extremely disturbing’. Despite the misgivings and maneuvering of his opponents and with the inauguration now just days away, Arevalo announced his cabinet on January 8th-filling seats with an even number of women and men for the first time in Guatemalan history and reaching outside his own party for some of the positions. This good faith move may help to dissuade some future dissent on the validity of his election, but it will not guarantee a clear reduction in short-term civil unrest.
In addition to the electoral concerns, the incoming President faces the enduring challenge of addressing deeply rooted issues such as corruption, economic inequality, and social disruptions. Skepticism surrounding the legitimacy of the election outcome could exacerbate existing divisions within the country, making it even more challenging for the President-elect to garner broad-based support for his policy initiatives, especially amongst social and political elites who feel they could become the focus of his anti-corruption initiatives. Navigating these internal challenges will require astute political acumen, a commitment to transparency, and a genuine effort to bridge the divides within Guatemalan society to build a foundation for a more stable and inclusive future.
Guatemala is thus on the cusp of a historic moment as the inauguration of the President-elect approaches, signaling a potential shift in the country’s political landscape. While this event is met with anticipation, there is an underlying concern about the potential for unrest and the associated travel risks in Guatemala this month and possibly for the foreseeable future.
The President-elect’s victory has ignited hope among Guatemalans for positive change. Promising to tackle corruption, economic challenges, and social disparities, the incoming leader has garnered widespread support. However, Guatemala’s political climate is multifaceted, and the transition of power may not be without challenges. Past instances of protests and civil unrest underscore the need for vigilance as the nation enters this critical period.
The potential for unrest stems from deep-rooted socio-political issues that have long plagued Guatemala. Economic disparities, coupled with corruption, have left a significant portion of the population disenfranchised with unenviable correlating crime rates. As the inauguration date approaches, there is a heightened possibility of citizens expressing their frustrations through various means, including peaceful demonstrations and, in some cases, disruptive protests. These kinds of civil disturbances can often be leveraged by criminal groups or opportunists in ways that raise threat levels directly affecting individuals and businesses in the area that they take place.
Travelers planning to visit Guatemala this month should be mindful of the potential risks associated with the political transition. Staying informed about the latest developments and heeding travel advisories from relevant authorities is crucial. While much of the country may remain unaffected, it is advisable for visitors to exercise caution, particularly in urban areas where protests are more likely to occur. Avoiding large gatherings and staying abreast of local news can help travelers make informed decisions during their stay.
In response to the potential for unrest, the Guatemalan government is likely to implement heightened security measures surrounding the inauguration. Travelers should be prepared for increased police presence and potential disruptions to transportation and public services. Coordinating with local authorities and adhering to their guidance is essential for ensuring personal safety. Flexibility in travel plans and having contingency measures in place will be crucial for those navigating Guatemala during this politically charged period.
For individuals already in Guatemala or planning to travel there, it is essential to familiarize themselves with emergency procedures. This includes knowing the location of embassies or consulates, having access to local emergency contacts, and ensuring communication devices are charged and operational. Travel insurance that covers unexpected disruptions is also recommended to provide an added layer of security.
Organizations with personnel and assets in the region or scheduled to travel there will benefit from comprehensive risk assessments and advisory provided by Black Mountain Solutions, which have the depth and breadth of experience to identify threats and assist with risk management services, including preparations like those mentioned above, at the local and regional levels. Outside providers like BMS strengthen the efficacy of organizational Business Continuity Planning, regardless of sector or industry, leveraging a wide range of security intelligence and operations resources to reduce risk and ensure the safety of personnel.
Guatemala’s upcoming presidential inauguration is a momentous occasion that comes with a degree of uncertainty. While the prospect of positive change is on the horizon, the potential for unrest highlights the importance of cautious and informed travel. By staying updated on the evolving situation, adhering to travel advisories, and exercising vigilance, both citizens and visitors can contribute to a safe and secure environment during this pivotal period in Guatemala’s political history.
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