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US Slams Raid on Guatemalan Anti-Graft Party Offices

Guatemalan presidential candidate Bernardo Arevalo called a Friday police raid on his party headquarters a “corrupt” show of political persecution just a month before a high-stakes run-off election, as the U.S. and EU echoed his condemnation.

Police raided the offices of Arevalo’s center-left Semilla party, the attorney general’s office announced, saying it was carrying out a July 12 court order that had canceled the group’s legal status.

Asked whether the U.S. was considering further sanctions or travel bans on Guatemalan officials, the official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said Washington was prepared to use “all the tools we have at our disposal” against corrupt and undemocratic actors in the country.

The raid follows an investigation into alleged irregularities in the registration of over 5,000 Semilla members, which the party has denied and which has been widely criticized by rights groups and Western governments as improper interference in Central America’s biggest democracy.

A court ordered the suspension of the party earlier this month after the June 25 first-round presidential vote, in which Arevalo, running on an anti-corruption platform, secured a surprise second place and advanced to the Aug. 20 run-off.

The constitutional court, Guatemala’s highest judicial authority, last week quashed the suspension, ruling that there are no legal impediments to Arevalo competing in the run-off.

The court stressed the ruling on Friday, but the raid has fueled doubts over whether a clash between Guatemalan institutions could thwart a fair run-off.

Early on Friday, Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal, which has confirmed Arevalo’s spot in the run-off, requested the court intervene to prevent top Guatemalan institutions, including the attorney general and the interior ministry, from announcing decisions that put the electoral process at risk.

The government of outgoing conservative President Alejandro Giammattei called the electoral tribunal’s request “surprising and regrettable.”

Video from outside the Semilla party offices posted by newspaper Diario La Hora showed at least a couple of dozen uniformed police officers standing guard on Friday, preventing anyone from entering or exiting the building.

The senior U.S. official said the U.S. was closely monitoring the lead-up to the run-off and would host Arevalo and his opponent, former first lady Sandra Torres, for talks in Washington next week to show support for free and fair elections.

The official said Washington had been in close contact with the Guatemalan government about the concerns of U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration and was also consulting with international partners.

The European Union in a statement on Friday called on Guatemalan institutions “to fully respect the integrity of the electoral process.”

Frank Mora, the U.S. ambassador to the Washington-based Organization of American States, expressed concerns over arrest warrants issued this week against members of Semilla, and said on Twitter that “Guatemalans deserve the right to vote for candidates without interference.”

Reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City and Matt Spetalnick in Washington; Writing by Valentine Hilaire and Brendan O’Boyle; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Rosalba O’Brien

Source : REUTERS