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Guatemala: US Takes Stance on Guatemala Amidst Political Tensions

1. Giammattei Shuns Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs (October 25)

On October 25, the US Department of State’s Assistant Secretary for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Brian Nichols, visited Guatemala for two days to support a peaceful presidential transition process. According to a press release, the purpose of the visit to Guatemala and El Salvador was to “support democratic processes, understand the reality, and give a message that democracy is the most important form of government and the will of the people of the country is key to the future.” On X (formerly Twitter), he emphasized the importance of collaboration in protecting human rights and defending democracy and called on all sectors to support the transition of presidential power to President-elect Bernardo Arévalo. In addition to Indigenous and civil society representatives, Nichols also visited private sector leaders, to “boost inclusive prosperity in Guatemala and discuss opportunities for collaboration.” Though he requested a meeting with President Giammattei, the president declined the meeting on grounds that it was inconvenient, sending his foreign minister to meet with Nichols instead. After meeting with Indigenous leaders of the national protests, Nichols said he “engaged in vital conversations with courageous Indigenous leaders and human rights defenders while in Guatemala,” again emphasizing his support for democracy in the region.

2. Leaders of US House Democracy Partnership Ask Antony Blinken to Support Transition of Power (October 27)

Three members of the US House Democracy Partnership sent a bipartisan letter on October 27 to Secretary of State Antony Blinken “urgently requesting the US Administration [to] encourage a peaceful transition of power and work with international partners to prevent further backsliding.” The letter was signed by Vern Buchanan, Chairman of the House Democracy Partnership; Dina Titus, Ranking Member of the House Democracy Partnership; and Representative Norma Torres, who is a member of the House Democracy Partnership. The members of Congress expressed concern about efforts by the Guatemalan executive branch to undermine the election results and considered US support “an urgent matter,” noting that “legal protections for the President-elect’s party end on October 31.”

3. Members of Congress Call for Strong Sanctions to Protect Democracy in Guatemala (October 30)

On October 30, members of the US House of Representatives, led by Congresswoman Norma Torres, sent a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen, urging them to use all available tools–including targeted financial sanctions–to support democracy and the rule of law in Guatemala. Their letter comes amidst rising concerns that Guatemalan election workers will come under attack by the Guatemalan Attorney General and others in November when their legal protections expire. The letter reads, in part, “We are grateful to see the Biden administration’s October 1 announcement stating that it is ‘actively taking steps to impose visa restrictions on individuals who continue to undermine Guatemala’s democracy” under section 212(a)(3)(C) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.’ In total, the Biden administration has placed 46 individuals from Guatemala on the Section 353 List of Corrupt and Undemocratic Actors. However, only six Guatemalans have been subjected to targeted financial sanctions under the Global Magnitsky Act. While we support the imposition of additional visa bans against actors undermining the democratic process in Guatemala, we note that visa restrictions are one of many available policy instruments to hold corrupt and anti-democratic actors accountable. Unfortunately, current efforts by the Biden administration are not leading to desired change in behaviors. We encourage the administration to expand the use of targeted financial sanctions authorities, which would likely have a more productive effect.”

4. US State Department Adds Former and Current Guatemalan Official to the Engel List (October 31)

On October 31, the State Department announced it had named two former Guatemalan officials and one current official to the list of corrupt or undemocratic actors, known as the Engel List. The United States designatedGendri Rocael Reyes Mazariegos, former Minister of the Interior, Alberto Pimentel Mata, former Minister of Energy and Mines (MEM), andOscar Rafael Pérez Ramírez, Vice Minister of Sustainable Development under the MEM, as generally ineligible for entry into the United States, due to their involvement in significant corruption. Reyes had already been designated to the list in July 2023. According to the State Department, “Reyes, Pimentel, and Perez accepted bribes in exchange for their performance of their public functions during their tenures.  Their corrupt actions undermined rule of law and government transparency in Guatemala.” During Pimentel Mara's tenure at the Ministry of Energy and Mines, a position he held from January 14, 2020 and resigned from in July 2023, an independent investigation was initiated, which indicated that public officials received bribes from directors of the mining company in El Estor. The designations were made under Section 7031(c) of the State Department Appropriations, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Act of 2023.