Socio-political context: in a semester marked by electoral competition, the deterioration of democracy and the rule of law continues.

The year 2023 began with numerous expressions of concern from the international community about the increasing deterioration of democracy in Guatemala during the years of the Alejandro Giammattei government. Institutions such as Human Right Watch (HRW) noted that the Giammattei government and its allies developed an "apparent attempt to avoid accountability for widespread corruption, including at the highest levels of the state". To this end, they appointed, through "neither fair nor transparent" selection processes, individuals accused in corruption cases and included in Washington's list of Anti-Democratic and Corrupt Actors (known as the Engel List)1 to key positions such as the Public Prosecutor's Office (MP), the Special Prosecutor's Office Against Impunity (FECI) and the Human Rights Ombudsman (PDH).

According to HRW, during her tenure, MP Prosecutor Consuelo Porras obstructed investigations into corruption and human rights violations. She transferred and dismissed prosecutors and promoted spurious criminal proceedings against judges, prosecutors and independent journalists.In the same vein, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed deep concern that those who fight for accountability for serious human rights violations in Guatemala are the ones being persecuted and prosecuted, as evidenced by the number of cases of criminalisation or exile of justice operators. According to the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), this situation is accompanied and aggravated by a general restriction of freedom of expression with "criminal investigations against journalists that appear to be politically motivated".

In this political context, during the first semester of 2023, the electoral process took place to designate the presidential binomial, the deputies to the Congress of the Republic, the municipal corporations and the incumbents to the Central American Parliament.

Institutions such as WOLA expressed from the beginning of the process serious concerns about its development, since the institutions responsible for guaranteeing it, such as the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), the Comptroller General's Office and the MP, have authorities elected through processes that have been questioned for lack of independence and that have shown a manifest disregard for the rule of law. During the process, the judicial process led to the suspension of the candidacies of Carlos Pineda, Thelma Cabrera and Roberto Arzú, leading to deep criticism and controversy surrounding the elections.According to Transparencia Electoral, the main concern has been the belief that these decisions are not based on legal principles, but rather on a strategic attempt to influence the results by limiting the citizenry's scope for choice. Faced with these concerns, PBI Guatemala, together with other international organisations, requested an electoral observation mission from the European Union, which finally took place under the name of MOE-EU.

In its preliminary statement following the first round of elections held on 25 June, the MOE confirmed allegations that "the elections were held in a context of serious deterioration of the rule of law and the independence of the judiciary, as well as severe restrictions on freedom of expression and press freedom, and that controversial decisions by the TSE, the judiciary and the Constitutional Court (CC) led to an unprecedented number of excluded candidates and lists, limiting the right to be elected of some participants and reducing real competition. Despite this context, voters demonstrated their strong commitment to democracy and civic values by going to the polling stations to express their will in a well-organised election day. The result was that Bernardo Arévalo of the Semilla Movement, a party that emerged in the heat of the citizen mobilisations of 2015 and with an anti-corruption and social democratic discourse, finally won the elections on 20 August 2023 against the candidate of the National Union of Hope (UNE) party, a party accused of corruption.

However, the situation of concern, tension and instability did not cease once the electoral process was over; on the contrary, it remained very high throughout the year, until the new government took office on 14 January 2024. In fact, days after the elections, the existence of a plan to assassinate the elected presidential couple was made public. In addition, different actions were launched to judicialise the electoral process with the aim of disqualifying the winning party, which have been branded as an attempted coup d'état, not only by Arévalo himself, but also by the international community and broad sectors of Guatemalan civil society.

With regard to the latter's mobilisation, in early October a variety of indigenous authorities from different territories in the country began a National Strike that continued until the inauguration of the new government was guaranteed. This indigenous leadership in defence of democracy gained broad and unprecedented support and recognition at national and international level. The main demand that was permanently maintained was the resignation of the Attorney General, Consuelo Porras, the director of the FECI Rafael Curruchiche, the prosecutor Cinthia Monterroso and the judge Fredy Orellana, identified as the main architects of the permanent coup attempts.

In March 2023, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights(OHCHR) presented its annual report on the human rights situation in Guatemala, concluding that the country continues to face "systemic and structural challenges in relation to inequality and discrimination, the judicial system and impunity, democratic space and the promotion and protection of human rights". Those facing the greatest vulnerability are women and girls, LGTBIQ+ persons, as well as justice operators, journalists and human rights defenders.

In relation to justice operators, the OHCHR pointed out undue delays in the processes, restrictions on the publicity of hearings and restrictions on the exercise of defence due to the reservation of cases, accompanied by campaigns of defamation and slander in the digital space. It also noted a deterioration in the conditions for the exercise of the right to freedom of expression, documenting attacks against journalists, perpetrated after the publication of investigations into cases where they denounced possible acts of corruption.

With regard to the situation of the LGTBIQ+ population, the National Observatory for LGBTIQ+ Human Rights recorded 17 deaths of people of sexual and gender diversity during the first half of 2023. OHCHR has called on the Guatemalan State to urgently adopt preventive and protective measures in the face of the alarming figures of stigmatisation, harassment, discrimination and rates of violence suffered by this population.

1  The Corrupt and Anti-Democratic Actors List, better known as the Engel List, is a list of individuals from Central America's Northern Triangle - Guatemala, El Salvador and Honduras - who have committed acts of corruption or engaged in actions to undermine democracy in their countries.
The investigations to create the list are the responsibility of the US Secretary of State and the US Department of State.