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History interrupted: Bernardo Arevalo and the Second Guatemalan Spring.

Guatemala is often nicknamed "the Land of Eternal Spring," but it has been a long winter for much of recent history. Corruption scandals, populists clamoring for sovereignty, and general detachment from the word "progress" are just the beginning. Since the 1954 CIA Coup d’état, the country has been a playground for the conservative elites that play to this day on the bipolar conflict of "the communist threat" to grant passage to military juntas and yes-men who will preserve the status quo. Nonetheless, winter cannot last forever. The sun eventually comes out.


On June 25th, 2023, the first round of the presidential elections in Guatemala happened. After candidates considered threats to the status quo, such as conservative businessman Carlos Pineda or indigenous leader Thelma Cabrera, were promptly disqualified. The elections were primed to be a pure disappointment towards the system, clearly visible because the leading candidate for the first at 17% was an invalid vote. The political culture in the country seemed to be dormant and ready to accept the fate that Sandra Torres (the status quo conservative) would go on to lead the country.


The Dark Horse in this story is Bernardo Arevalo, the son of Guatemala's first democratically Juan Jose Arevalo. In March 1945, Juan Jose Arevalo, a middle-class Guatemalan teacher, became president after winning 85 percent of the votes on a reformist platform. His presidency would be marked by social reforms in labor law and the right to unionize. The collective memory considers him a respected reformist who is less extreme than the man of almost mythical legacy who succeeded him: Jacobo Arbenz. Arbenz was ousted as a communist sympathizer in 1954, and the governments that followed worked to smear his figure as much as possible. An Arbenz descendant may have never reached the heights that Bernardo Arevalo would manage almost 80 years later.


Bernardo Arevalo was born in Uruguay while his father was in exile. He proved himself internationally with a Ph.D. in the Netherlands and several diplomatic posts. Someone with an imposing bloodline like him could manage such accomplishments. But in the current system, he had to stay in his lane. However, in 2023, he got enough votes to take him into the second round and have a shot at the presidency. The corrupt institutions would try to show their strength and push him out of the race.


After the first round, Attorney General Consuelo Porras, whom the United States Department of State had flagged as synonymous with corruption and obstructing justice, began her witch-hunt to disband Arevalo's political party Semilla. She is part of a movement attempting to silence the Guatemalan democracy. Bernardo Arevalo did not seem like a threat with the polls before the elections, so they didn't see him coming. He won the popular vote, and after the first round, he only grew more popular.


The issue was that the threats from the government's rotten judicial branch were not empty. What followed was the persecution of members of Semilla and the danger of the disbanding of the party under shaky legal grounds. Despite the constant abuses of power in the government, the Guatemalan people have not been quiet when they see something disrespectful happening in front of them. In the same way, they took to the streets in 2015. They peacefully protested in front of the presidential palace to ask for the resignation of Otto Perez Molina, the former president who was marred in layers of corruption. On that day, they succeeded, and they never forgot.


For several weeks, primarily indigenous groups took to the streets and paralyzed much of the country's commerce. These groups took major highways and blocked them to get their demands met. They wanted the election results to be respected and their voice heard. The president then, Alejandro Giammattei, another critical figure in this convoluted net of corruption, faced the brunt of the hatred. His power structure was shaking. Over the last four years, his attempt to unite the executive, legislative, and judicial powers was starting to crumble. Maybe this cold winter was ending.


Bernardo Arevalo went on to win the second round and the presidency simultaneously. On January 14th, he would step into his father's shoes and become the most progressive head of state since democracy returned to the country and Arbenz's downfall. Even so, with the High Representative of the European Union, presidents of powerful Latin American states like Colombia and Chile, and the King of Spain waiting for the eventful inauguration. They would leave disappointed from some uneventful delays by a desperate group of government officials holding back the transition of power. In the last moments of the status quo, they held back the event. The time of change was delayed but not left astray.

The Guatemalan public understood this was a strategy to have their voice silenced again. They went out in the streets one last time, proclaiming that the man they selected to rule them as president was Bernardo Arevalo – no one else. The world's governments at once supported the Guatemalan people, who accepted Bernardo Arevalo as the rightful president even before the official proclamation —those last few who held back the official transition of power of Mr. Arevalo finally lost. The power transition concluded at the high hours of the night on January 15th, with an effervescent public presence at the central square proclaiming victory.


Perhaps not since the grand 1944 October revolution, when Jorge Ubico's military dictatorship saw its last winter night, had the Guatemalan public gathered to support a singular movement. Under the impressive shadow of his reformist father, Bernardo Arevalo has a chance to bring a new tomorrow to life. An opportunity to welcome spring for a second time, resume the history that foreign powers took from the Guatemalans, and finally listen to the Guatemalan people's voice to bring the prosperity we haven't had yet. The beginning is hopeful, with economic relations healing between Guatemala and the European powers and a newfound respect for our leadership worldwide. History will be the one to judge, but in the meantime, this smell of flowers and fresh rain is well-deserved.


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