In Guatemala, the suspension of a leading presidential candidate has sparked concerns Election season in Guatemala just took a surprising turn as a judge suspended the candidacy of a leading presidential contender, stoking fears that the country is becoming less democratic.

In Guatemala, the suspension of a leading presidential candidate has sparked concerns

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


In just five weeks, Guatemalans will go to the polls to elect a new president. But what was already a messy electoral process got a lot messier last week. That's because the country's courts essentially removed the leading presidential candidate, Carlos Pineda, from the race. NPR's Eyder Peralta is at a campaign rally in Quiche and joins us now to explain more. Welcome to the show.


RASCOE: So, Eyder, let's start with Carlos Pineda. He was leading in the polls, and now he's not even in the race.

PERALTA: Yeah, the courts here basically suspended his candidacy until they have a chance to look at the claims that his political party has been sloppy with its procedures. But this might mean the end to his presidential run because there's very little chance that the court will finish its review before the election or before the ballot papers are printed. And there's even a smaller chance that an appeal before the country's constitutional court will be decided in time. And the context here is important. This comes at a time when Guatemala has seen a huge backslide in its democracy. Most of the country's independence judges have been forced into exile, and now the political elite are using the judicial system to go after their enemies.

RASCOE: Tell us about who is left in the race.

PERALTA: So there are - I mean, there are still nearly two dozen candidates in this race. So it's very likely going to end in a runoff. But the two main candidates now come from the establishment. Zury Rios - I'm here at one of her campaign rallies - is the daughter of Efrain Rios Montt, a former military leader who was once convicted of genocide, which was perpetrated during the civil war in the '80s. And then you have Sandra Torres, who is a former first lady who was also once jailed over charges of corruption. Carlos Pineda, the one who was disqualified, sort of came out of nowhere to ruin the plans of Rios and Torres. And no one really knows a lot about him other than he's a rich businessman. His campaign is almost all based on social media. He puts out video after video smashing politicians, and he uses the same slogan as the controversial leader of El Salvador, that there's enough money if it's not stolen.

RASCOE: You've been traveling the country. What are you hearing from people you're talking to?

PERALTA: I keep hearing the same funny phrase. They say we're being forced to vote for (speaking Spanish). And that translates to to vote for the least worst. And not one person we've spoken to is enthusiastic. In fact, we've seen candidates move around Guatemala City, and they're met with silence, not even here. All the noise you are hearing right now is coming from the stage. One of the organizers spent 10 minutes trying to get people here to clap when the presidential candidate came in, and they didn't.

RASCOE: But why are people so disillusioned?

PERALTA: It's a huge letdown. A decade ago, you know, Guatemala was making progress. Rios Montt was convicted of genocide. An anti-corruption task force, which was backed by the U.N., was bringing some of the most powerful politicians to justice. I spoke to Lucrecia Hernandez Mack who's a congresswoman from one of the small reformist parties here. And she's a doctor, so she says that at the time, Guatemala was taking its antibiotics to clear this infection of bad politicians, but suddenly they banded together to hit back, and they stopped the treatment. Let's listen.

LUCRECIA HERNANDEZ MACK: Now they are like this gonorrhea multi-resistente (ph). Before, I mean, you would give penicillin, and it would, you know, clear (laughter). And then they are starting to be resistant to all kinds of antibiotics.

PERALTA: And by that, she means that the political class here has consolidated power, and the things that used to sway them - popular protests, social media outcry, international pressure - that stuff no longer moves them. And I think you hear if nothing is ever going to change, why should I care?

RASCOE: NPR's Eyder Peralta, thank you so much for joining us.

PERALTA: Thank you, Ayesha.

Copyright © 2023 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.