A Shock to Guatemala’s System

Almost no one thought that an underdog political reformer could defeat Guatemala’s corrupt political machine, but Bernardo Arévalo did just that. Now comes the hard part.

By Will Freeman and Lucas Perelló

August 2023

On August 20, Bernardo Arévalo, a centrist anticorruption reformer, won Guatemala’s presidential runoff by a wide margin, defeating his establishment rival, Sandra Torres, by more than 20 points. Arévalo claimed victory in eighteen of Guatemala’s 21 departments, dominating urban centers while also making inroads into Torres’ rural strongholds.

All told, the opposition win was a striking reversal of fortune for a country that seemed—until recently—to be on a one-way path toward democratic erosion, and for an electoral process that nearly saw Arévalo’s party barred from competing. Beating clientelist machine parties that backed his competitor is a feat in its own right. But now Arévalo and his party, Movimiento Semilla (Seed Movement), face an even bigger challenge: governing for the first time, with control of only about a seventh of the seats in Congress, and enacting reforms that are likely to alienate a host of vested interests….