While Guatemala’s political establishment was busy sabotaging candidates and seemingly influencing the courts – they forgot about the power of the people. Bernardo Arévalo of Movimiento Semilla party received enough votes to go on to the final round on August 20th, against conservative Sanda Torres. Despite the chaotic electoral season, the voters raised their voices to support Semilla, a grassroots, anti-corruption party.
The Origins of Semilla
With the political context shared by Mariajose España fresh in mind, we continued the “¿Que Pasa en Guatemala?” conversation on Tuesday. We interviewed Ronalth Ochaeta Aguilar, a prominent figure within Guatemala’s Semilla political movement. Ochaeta shared insights into the origins, objectives, and challenges faced by Semilla striving for change in Guatemala’s rapidly evolving political landscape. Below, you can learn more through our short recap, and find the full conversation here (currently in Spanish with English captions coming soon).
Like most progressive movements, Semilla’s inception in 2015 rose as a direct response to the widespread dissatisfaction with the status quo in Guatemala. Ochaeta says that the people recognized the urgent need for a political “project” that could challenge the existing narrative, legitimize itself, and bring about transformative change.
Ochaeta gave us context by describing what Semilla was up against and shedding light on the oppressive weight that hung over Guatemala’s previous elections. “There’s a phenomenon known as the spiral of silence,” he shared. “In other words, there is an authoritarian atmosphere here, even in public institutions, where people were essentially forced to vote for candidate X, and that was communicated in a very regular manner.” This culture of manufactured consent was one of the many things Semilla sought out to overturn.
The Realities of the Fight Ahead
Guatemala’s political establishment has been fighting this call for change with every power at their disposal. Ochaeta shared that there’s a unique duality to representing Semilla in this climate and told us about what it meant for him to exist on both ends of the spectrum. “On the positive side, when you visit communities, connect with neighbors, and engage with grassroots organizations, the reception is warm and welcoming. People are full of hope, and you see it in their eyes. This emotional impact gives us strength, like positive vibes that help us continue our journey.”
Next, he shared the political challenges: “On the flip side, there’s the other aspect. You see friends, acquaintances, party members forced into exile, facing a barrage of lawyers and judges whose goal is to attack and criminalize them. This is done just like with anyone from the social movement, those defending their land or water rights, for example.”
“You realize that the state, this Leviathan with teeth, wants to devour you. It’s challenging to navigate this landscape, but winning helps to defuse the monster.” -Ronalth Ochaeta Aguilar
The metaphorical monster won’t be easy to beat. It represents decades of political corruption, entrenched power, and fear that seeks to subdue any whisper of change. Ochaeta and other leaders within Semilla understand the gravity of their commitment and the enormity of the task ahead. They also know one key thing: the intensity of the opposition’s attacks to suppress this popular movement stem from one undeniable reality – their fear. “If the monster is attacking, it’s because it’s afraid.” Ochaeta said. “They’re the ones who are afraid.”
The Values that Guide Semilla
Despite facing significant challenges and limited resources, Semilla’s is rooted in a commitment to rebuild Guatemala’s institutions and rid them of corruption. “We know that we won’t eradicate corruption completely. We understand that achieving political agreements and decisions in a congress where the corrupt still hold the majority will be very challenging.” Ochaeta shared.
Regardless of whether the establishment is with it or not, the party envisions a transformed country with a focus on social development, competitive yet environmentally responsible economic growth, and a reimagined social protection system that empowers the most vulnerable. For Semilla, those who stand with them are more than numbers, they represent a powerful source of legitimacy and strength – the foundation that makes it possible to advocate for Guatemala’s well-being and its potential to thrive.
What Can We Expect from Sunday’s Election?
As the pivotal day of the election quickly approaches, Ochaeta’s assessment lays out three clear trajectories of what possibly lies ahead for Guatemala, shared below.
1. The first outcome is clouded in uncertainty: the possibility that Semilla loses. Ocheata acknowledges that this outcome casts an unsettling reality for the movement. He candidly revealed that many of the leaders who stand at the forefront of it are being systematically criminalized. The consequences of a loss extend far beyond political defeat. For some, it means exile.
Ochaeta emphasized that the authoritarian trajectory of a Torres presidency threatens not only democracy, but the lives of Guatemalan citizens everywhere. So the urgency to avert this possible outcome underscores how critical the stakes are come Sunday.
2. The second exciting outcome, where Semilla emerges victorious, would be no less demanding. From August 21st until January 14th, Semilla would have to embark on a fierce battle to keep its spirit alive and vigilant. He lays bare the strategies employed by opposition forces – the potential to cancel the party or initiate legal proceedings aimed at dismantling its foundation.
In the halls of power, a weakened caucus in the Congress of the Republic could emerge, limiting the movement’s capacity to bring about substantial change for Guatemala. Still, this doesn’t deter their resolve to win and represent the country as a party of the people.
3. And then, a third possibility: one where Semilla’s victory serves as a catalyst to engage actors from every sector. Where a national agenda is crafted that bridges divides and channels collective efforts toward a brighter future. The movement’s ascendancy could pave the way for executive policies and legislative reforms within the Congress of the Republic, shaping Guatemala’s trajectory from the ground up.
Regardless of the outcome, Ochaeta’s message is one of resilience and unity. He shared that the movement remains steadfast, unfettered by the fear tactics of those in power. Semilla’s journey forward is one of “determination, courage, and a vision for a better Guatemala” – and we can’t wait to see all they achieve next.