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OAS Permanent Council Addresses Situation in Guatemala

As we all know, on June 25, in the most internationally and domestically observed election in Guatemalan history, the Guatemalan people freely chose Sandra Torres and Bernardo Arévalo as the two candidates to participate in Guatemala’s August 20 runoff election for the presidency. This decision was confirmed by a second review of the vote and officially certified on July 12 by Guatemala’s electoral tribunal, the TSE.

The United States welcomes the certification of the first round of Guatemala’s election, which upholds the integrity of the electoral process and validates the will of the people of Guatemala as expressed on June 25.

The United States strongly supports the Guatemalan people’s right to democracy and recalls that the Government of Guatemala is responsible for conducting free and fair elections.

We are proud to support the ongoing work of the OAS Electoral Observation Mission, and we appreciate its report to this Council. Yet again, the Department of Electoral Cooperation and Observation of the OAS, or DECO, has demonstrated the professionalism and technical expertise of its Electoral Observation Missions, which is why these Missions are and remain the gold standard, and a critical tool for promoting and protecting democracy in our hemisphere.

The monitoring work of the OAS Mission, as well as that of the European Union and multiple Guatemalan domestic organizations, has provided us with valuable information in recent weeks.

With this information in mind, Chair, we are deeply concerned by the recent attempt of the Public Ministry to threaten the integrity of the election process:

o by attempting to revoke the legal status of the Semilla political party amidst the election process and raiding the party’s offices;
o by raiding the offices of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal following their rightful decision to certify the results of the first round of the elections in Guatemala; and
o by seeking criminal penalties against the Director of the TSE’s Citizen Registry for his refusal to execute an order to revoke the Semilla party’s legal status.

These actions are unacceptable and directly threaten Guatemala’s democracy by attempting to undermine the will of the voters.

We have heard from a broad range of voices from Guatemalan society, as well as from the Inter American System, who have expressed legitimate concerns that the Public Ministry’s actions violate Guatemala’s own electoral law and basic constitutional protections. In particular, the United States is grateful for the Guatemalan private sector’s strong commitment to the integrity of the country’s election.

Let me be clear, Chair. Guatemalans deserve to vote for their preferred candidates without interference. The ongoing efforts to interfere with Guatemala’s elections threaten to undermine its democratic process and its adherence to the Inter American Democratic Charter.

The United States, alongside everyone in this room, will continue to closely follow Guatemala’s election process ahead of the second round on August 20.

We will do so because we support the integrity of the democratic process in Guatemala, and because we all committed to uphold democracy in our region when we signed the Inter-American Democratic Charter on September 11, 2001.

The Charter must be our guide, and we should be prepared to act on the basis of its principles.

Let there be no doubt that we believe in democracy – in its enduring capacity for renewal and for revitalization. It remains the best way to meet the needs of our citizens and people across the Americas.

To this point, and as we have noted in the past with regards to Venezuela, and to Nicaragua: what is happening in Guatemala affects us all. This attempt to silence the voices of the Guatemalan people who deserve to choose their own leaders is a moment for us all to redouble our sacred commitment to democracy as reflected in the Democratic Charter.

Any time democracy is undermined in our region, we cannot and should not stand by and do nothing. In fact, we have, and I quote from Article 1 of the Inter-American Democratic Charter, “an obligation to promote and defend it.”

Colleagues, on behalf of the United States I must speak up today – not because our democracy is perfect, we know it is not, no democracy is – but rather because we are invested in each other’s democracies. Because we made a commitment to hold one another accountable.

Unfortunately, as we have seen in various cases around the world, one of the most dangerous steps a democracy can take is to strip away citizens’ rights to improve the system from within.

Chair, we also know that the risks inherent in backsliding – not just to individual countries and their citizens, but to entire regions – are real.

Genuine democracies do not interfere in the democratic process. Rather, they allow their citizens to freely choose their leaders.

In signing on to the Democratic Charter 20 years ago, we all established democracy as nothing less than the foundation upon which together we will build the future.

It is now for all of us — citizens, governments, and institutions together — to ensure the Charter’s empowering provisions are upheld and continue to serve all of the peoples of this hemisphere. And that includes the citizens of Guatemala.

And so, as we continue to assess the developing situation in Guatemala, we must also have the courage to act, to support efforts undertaken consistent with the spirit of the Charter when the circumstances warrant it.

Chair, when a government attempts to cancel or revoke the registration of any political party on frivolous grounds, particularly in the middle of an election, it demonstrates inconsistency with collective commitments expressed in the Inter-American Democratic Charter.

This includes the exercise of power in accordance with the rule of law; the pluralistic system of political parties and organizations; the separation of powers and independence of the branches of government; and the right and responsibility of all citizens to participate in decisions relating to their own development.

With these observations in mind, Chair, we join other OAS member states in calling upon the Government of Guatemala to uphold its obligations and commitments under the OAS and Democratic Charters, to allow the voices of its own citizens to be heard, and to move forward with the runoff on August 20, without hesitation or interference.

Source : usoas