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The runoff presidential election in Guatemala will be held this weekend

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now we're going to look ahead at the presidential election this weekend in Guatemala.

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

The first round in June was met with apathy, but it produced a surprise candidate and a real choice about where the country is headed. To step back a second, Guatemala had been a place of hope a few years ago. A brave movement backed by the U.S. and U.N. was fighting corruption and impunity. But the establishment fought back, closing corruption probes, sidelining judges, prosecutors and even presidential hopefuls.

MARTIN: NPR's Eyder Peralta is with us now from Mexico City to talk about how this vote could determine which way Guatemala goes next. Eyder, welcome. Thanks for joining us.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Hey, Michel.

MARTIN: So the country is down to a runoff vote between two candidates for president. As briefly as you can, tell us about who they are and who's backing them.

PERALTA: So the establishment is backing Sandra Torres. From 2008 to 2012, she was the first lady of Guatemala, and she led her husband's social programs, which made her very popular. But in 2019, when Guatemala was on this voracious anti-corruption campaign, she was jailed. She was charged with misusing campaign funds. But once this anti-corruption task force was disbanded, the charges against her were dropped, and she launched a presidential campaign. The surprise candidate is Bernardo Arevalo, and he also has a political bloodline. His father was the first democratically elected president in Guatemala in the mid-'40s, and he's been an ambassador and deputy foreign minister. He ran an anti-corruption campaign, but his party didn't have much money. He was the one candidate you didn't see on billboards, so no one thought he could actually make it to a second round. But here he is, and his campaign has reinvigorated this whole election process.

MARTIN: You know, Guatemala was once a focus of the U.S. and the U.N. trying to address crime there. What happened to that effort?

PERALTA: It's dead. There was a U.N.-backed task force that conducted hundreds of investigations, but they were kicked out of the country. Many judges and prosecutors have fled, or they've been bought off. And we've seen some of the effects of that during the presidential campaign. The candidate who was leading in the polls during the first round was an outsider. He presented himself as an anti-corruption crusader, but he was disqualified five weeks before the first round of this election. It was a move that was condemned as anti-democratic by the international community, and he said it was the corrupt of Guatemala trying to stop any effort to bring them to justice. But this campaign did change during the second round. Suddenly, corruption is the talk on the campaign. Even Sandra Torres, who had kind of sidestepped the issue, is now clear. Jail the corrupt, she says.

MARTIN: So you've been telling us about lots of problems with these elections. Given all that, what are the chances that this vote, however it turns out, will be disputed?

PERALTA: Well, there's already a lot of uncertainty. The offices of Bernardo Arevalo, the surprise candidate, have been raided, and a court actually ruled that he should be disqualified from the race. Electoral authorities said that they didn't know if that decision was legal, so the elections and the campaigns have continued. But also polls show that Guatemalans have little confidence in their electoral authority. So the table is set for either side to contest the results, and the table is set for a legal battle.

MARTIN: And the elections are this Sunday. And when are we going to have preliminary results?

PERALTA: Overnight, we should get them.

MARTIN: All right. That's NPR's Eyder Peralta in Mexico. Eyder, thank you.

PERALTA: Thank you, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.
Eyder Peralta
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.