Top Guatemalan presidential candidate disqualified ahead of race

Guatemala’s Constitutional Court has ruled to end the presidential campaign of dark horse candidate Carlos Pineda, with just a month left before voting begins.

Pineda, a conservative businessman with a large following on social media, had appealed to the country’s highest court after a judge suspended his candidacy a week ago for failing to comply with the country’s electoral laws.

But the Constitutional Court on Friday affirmed the lower court’s ruling, which found that Pineda failed to collect signatures from party delegates and file required financial reports, as required by the nomination process.

The decision provoked a fiery reaction from Pineda, who had recently emerged as the leader in an election poll.

“Corruption won, Guatemala lost,” Pineda wrote in a social media post.

In another, he said the Constitutional Court had approved “election fraud” by ruling: “We are without democracy!!”

Supporters greet Carlos Pineda after he leaves Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, which heard his appeal to stay in the presidential race on May 20 [File: Moises Castillo/AP Photo]

Pineda is so far the third candidate disqualified from the presidential race, with the first round of voting scheduled for June 25.

His disqualification follows that of fellow conservative Roberto Arzú on Thursday.

Earlier this year, a leftist indigenous candidate, Thelma Cabrera, was also disqualified from the race after her running mate, former human rights official Jordán Rodas, was not eligible.

Rodas reportedly failed to provide a letter confirming that no legal proceedings were pending against him, leading a court to rule that his entire ticket — including Cabrera — could not register for the election.

Critics have labeled the disqualifications as politically motivated, designed to weed out candidates deemed unfavorable to the government.

On Twitter, Juan Pappier, acting deputy director for America at Human Rights Watch, denounced Friday’s ruling as a “clear instrumentalization of the judiciary to ensure an ‘electoral’ outcome.”

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei listens to the first annual report of the second four-year term from Attorney General Consuelo Porras in Guatemala City, Wednesday, May 17
The government of Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei has been accused of suppressing critical voices in the country, including members of the media [File: Moises Castillo/AP Photo]

Outgoing administration President Alejandro Giammattei has already been accused of suppressing dissent in Guatemala.

Earlier this month, ElPeriodico, a 27-year-old investigative journalist, said it was “forced” to halt his daily publications after “persecution” against his staff “intensified”. Its founder, José Rubén Zamora, had previously been arrested on charges of money laundering and blackmail.

And under Giammattei, an estimated 30 legal experts and anti-corruption officials — including judges and lawyers — have fled the country after his government launched an investigation against them.

Many of these figures have ties to the now-closed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an independent organization backed by the United Nations to root out corruption in the country.

Those left behind risk arrest and prosecution. On Friday, Guatemalan police arrested Stuardo Campos, a prosecutor dealing with crimes against migrants who had previously worked on anti-corruption cases.

The far-right group Foundation Against Terrorism had filed a complaint against Campos, alleging that he had abused his authority.

“This complaint is false,” Campos responded. “I know that my work as an anti-corruption prosecutor has earned me hostility in many sectors.”

Giammattei is not running for re-election in June’s race, but his conservative party, Vamos, has a candidate running: Manuel Conde. However, no Guatemalan political party has ever managed to win consecutive presidential elections.

On Wednesday, days before his disqualification, Pineda topped a poll of presidential candidates. He led with 22 percent voter support. Close behind was former First Lady Sandra Torres with 20 percent, followed by Zury Ríos – the daughter of former president Efraín Ríos Montt, who was accused of genocide – and diplomat Edmond Mulet.

About 30 political parties are expected. Pineda represented the Prosperidad Ciudadana – or “Citizen Prosperity” – party.