Support Us

Dispatch from Guatemala: They Won’t See Us Coming

Above photo: Casa Mosaico Press Conference for presidential candidate Bernardo Arévalo in Guatemala,
Aug. 8, 2023. Photo: Vaclav Masek

Dispatch #1: August 10, 2023
By Vaclav Masek

Covering the 2023 Guatemalan presidential elections has been like navigating a terrain between a never-ending cycle of fear and intimidation and glimmering lights of hope. The competing narratives put forward by UNE and Semilla provide evidence that voters will choose between the status quo and the Guatemalan establishment out of fear; or the opportunity for change brought about by a reformist candidate whose messaging attempts to generate feelings of hope. Guatemalans are currently stuck in a campaign that pits two contrasting political projects and use diverging emotions to rally electoral support. 

Citizens are bombarded with propaganda on the streets and media by UNE’s campaign for Sandra Torres, the former first lady and third-time candidate reinventing herself as a social conservative. Torres and UNE tell voters that the battle is ideological; a victory for her opponents would lead Guatemala to adopt a radical leftist agenda similar to Cuba, Nicaragua, or Venezuela. Using fear, Torres and UNE’s strategy aims to strike a chord with Guatemalans haunted by the armed conflict’s enduring legacies. Society and its traditional values are at risk. 

Conversely, Semilla and its candidate Bernardo Arévalo cast the August 20 vote as a referendum on the entire political system that should transcend ideological attachments. After the unexpected first-round electoral performance, Semilla and Arévalo rely on a message of hope for the future that uses the citizen mobilizations of 2015 as the starting point for the party’s political projects and the country’s democratic consciousness. They point to the rapid deterioration of Guatemala’s institutions at the hands of the political elites. Critics are harassed, the press is censored, and opposition leaders are persecuted. Guatemalans are tired of corruption stifling any chance of improving the quality of life in the country, so the grassroots alternative founded by students, intellectuals, and working professionals fuels the desire for a paradigm shift. Semilla is putting democracy back on the ballot. 

Guatemalans took to the streets in 2015 in a citizen’s uprising. Photo: Saul Martínez from 500 Years.

Florecerás, Guatemala, “Guatemala, you will blossom.”

For context to this important moment in Guatemala’s recent political history, we invite you to watch our Resistance Saga films *FREE* through August 21st: When The Mountains Tremble, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, and 500 Years.  

Please share the links with your friends and networks, and let’s keep an eye on the election and its results on August 20th. 

Vaclav Masek

Vaclav Masek is a researcher, translator, and freelance journalist from Guatemala. Recently, Vaclav completed a Master's degree from the Center of Latin American and Caribbean Studies (CLACS) at New York University (NYU). His interdisciplinary research covers the political histories of Central America in the 20th century, particularly focusing on the Northern Triangle countries–Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. In his capacity as International Volunteers Coordinator for Skylight’s VIVX program, Vaclav provides logistical and technical support to human rights defenders on the ground in Latin America and to volunteers who accompany them virtually.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter


Join our mailing list to receive the latest news and updates from our team.

You have Successfully Subscribed!