Guatemala’s outgoing president promises to hand over power but condemns foreign interference in the UN general debate.

Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has warned of the “danger of a coup” in Guatemala in an address to the United Nations General Assembly, prompting a rebuke from the country’s outgoing president, Alejandro Giammattei.

Speaking from UN headquarters in New York on Tuesday, Lula expressed concerns that the results of Guatemala’s 2023 presidential election could be overturned.

“There is a risk of a coup in Guatemala that would hinder the inauguration of the winner of democratic elections,” Lula said during the general debate, an event where world leaders can speak on any topic.

But hours later it was Giammattei’s turn to take the podium – and he defended himself against Lula’s accusations.

“Contrary to the alleged truths we heard on this podium today, I will hand over power to the person elected in the elections,” Giammattei said.

He also condemned “unnecessary international involvement” in the election.

Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei speaks at the 78th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York City on September 19 [Mike Segar/Reuters]

“This involvement and interference was unnecessary because our democracy is not perfect, but it was a democracy that allowed us a peaceful transfer of power and respect for the Constitution,” he added.

The high-profile back-and-forth came a day after U.S. Ambassador to the Organization of American States Francisco Mora said Washington was concerned about efforts to undermine democracy in Guatemala.

He pointed to recent actions by Guatemala’s top prosecutor that appeared to target President-elect Bernardo Arevalo, the anti-corruption candidate who won the Aug. 20 runoff.

Since emerging as the leading candidate in the election, Arevalo has been threatened with the suspension of his political party, the Seed Movement.

Prosecutors under Attorney General María Consuelo Porras have also sought court orders to search the seed movement’s headquarters and the offices of Guatemala’s electoral authority.

In a police raid last week, police opened boxes of sealed ballots, sparking international outrage.

“In a healthy democracy, institutions do not tamper with ballot boxes after election results have been officially certified by the relevant authority,” Mora said.

He called the act “an attack on the rule of law” and called on authorities in Guatemala to end their “intimidation efforts.”

The Attorney General’s Office insists it is following the law.

Arevalo, for his part, briefly suspended his participation in the change of government to protest against the prosecutors’ actions. He has also called for Porras and other officials to resign.

Those calls were echoed on the streets of Guatemala this week, as Arevalo called on his supporters to march in defense of the country’s electoral integrity.

On Tuesday, thousands of indigenous supporters and farmers set up 14 blockades along the country’s seven main highways and several streets in the capital Guatemala City to demonstrate against alleged election interference.

On Monday, a coalition of academic and human rights groups also issued a statement calling for international pressure to ensure Guatemala respects the election results.

Arevalo is scheduled to take office in January.

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