U.S takes action on Guatemalans accused of threatening democracy

By Sofia Menchu

GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) -The United States slapped fresh visa restrictions on more than a dozen Guatemalans and their immediate families on Tuesday, accusing them of undermining democracy in the Central American country.

The U.S. government has sought to pressure Guatemalan officials, especially the country’s attorney general, to stop what it and other countries have claimed is a coordinated effort to undermine President-elect Bernardo Arevalo, who won a landslide victory in August.

Arevalo’s win was formally certified later on Tuesday by Guatemala’s electoral court.

Attorney General Consuelo Porras, herself accused of corruption by the U.S. government, has alleged that Arevalo’s Seed Movement party faked signatures in its registration process six years ago, and her office is also aggressively investigating alleged irregularities in the election.

The party has denied the accusations and accused Porras of orchestrating a slow-motion coup, which street protesters have echoed in nationwide marches.

Published by the U.S State Department, the visa restrictions list includes both former and current officials, including ex-Interior Minister Gendri Reyes, and ex-Energy and Mines Minister Alberto Pimentel.

“The Guatemalan people have spoken, and their votes must be respected,” said U.S. Rep. Norma Torres in a statement.

“The United States unequivocally stands with those fighting for democracy in Guatemala,” added the congresswoman, who is of Guatemalan heritage.

The center-left Arevalo won the August run-off vote by a 20-point margin running on an anti-corruption platform and is due to take office on Jan. 14.

“The United States rejects the continued efforts to undermine Guatemala’s peaceful transition of power to President-elect Arevalo,” the U.S. Department of State said in a separate statement.

Earlier this month, senior U.S. diplomat for the region Brian Nichols said Washington could launch targeted sanctions against anti-democratic actors in Guatemala, without providing further detail.

Sources with direct knowledge of behind-the-scenes talks told Reuters in August that financial sanctions were being considered, including possibly targeting the country’s key sugar exports.

(Reporting by Sofia Menchu; Additional reporting by Raul Cortes, Isabel Woodford and Jasper Ward; Editing by David Alire Garcia and Lincoln Feast.)