By Sofia Menchu
GUATEMALA CITY (Reuters) -Guatemala’s President-elect Bernardo Arevalo arrived at the site of his planned inauguration on Sunday after the ceremony was delayed for hours by hostile lawmakers, prompting international calls for the election outcome to be honored.
Arevalo shared a video of his arrival to the national theater on social media platform X, saying it was time to “celebrate the new spring in Guatemala.”
“See you in the plaza,” he added, referring to Guatemala City’s public square where people usually gather to celebrate.
It was not clear, however, whether the event would proceed as scheduled, as Congress was still swearing-in lawmakers, a procedure that must be completed before Arevalo is officially declared president and Karin Herrera sworn in as vice president.
The delay to the inauguration is the latest legislative setback Arevalo has faced since he swept to victory in an August election, vowing to stamp out corruption and restore democracy to Central America’s most populous country.
These setbacks, which the president-elect has blamed on the attorney-general affiliated with the outgoing president, underscore Guatemala’s fragile rule of law and highlight the challenges Arevalo faces in trying to keep his campaign pledges to restore political stability and root out organized crime.
The swearing-in at Congress was delayed after Guatemala’s top court decided earlier on Sunday that lawmakers from Arevalo’s own Semilla party could take their seats as independents, a move that dilutes the party’s presence and weakens the president-elect’s power. The court said it would convene on Monday to further discuss the matter.
Supporters of Arevalo threatened to storm Congress during the delay, as police in riot gear amassed in the streets, as the United States and several Latin American countries called for Arevalo’s election win to be respected.
Samantha Power, chief of the U.S. Agency for International Development, said there was “no question” that Arevalo was president and called for calm.
Taiwan, which maintains diplomatic ties with Guatemala, also said in a statement that it “clearly” recognizes Arevalo and Herrera as the president and vice president of the country.
Honduran Foreign Minister Enrique Reina called for Arevalo’s inauguration to be respected on a message shared on X, saying he was speaking on behalf of the delegations present in Guatemala, including from the Organization of American States (OAS) and the European Union.
“The Guatemalan people expressed their democratic will in fair, free and transparent elections, endorsed by the international community through its electoral observation missions. That will must be respected,” Reina said.
Since Arevalo won the presidential-run off, the attorney general, seen as an ally of outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei, has stepped up attempts to discredit his victory and hinder his transition.
The attorney general has tried to strip Arevalo and Herrera of legal immunity, attempted to suspend his Semilla party and annul the election. The “coup” attempt, as Arevalo terms it, has drawn tens of thousands of Guatemalans to the streets.
The attorney general’s office has denied that it is attempting a coup and defended its actions as within the framework of Guatemala’s laws.
The international community, including the United States, has piled vast pressure on Giammattei’s administration to proceed with the transition of power.
Last month, the U.S. government imposed additional visa restrictions on nearly 300 Guatemalan nationals including 100 lawmakers out of the 160-member unicameral Congress, accused of undermining democracy in the Central American nation.
Despite its overwhelming victory in the presidential elections, Semilla – a social democratic, environmentalist and progressive party – barely won 23 of the 160 seats in the legislature.
(Reporting by Sofia Menchu in Guatemala City; additional reporting by Laura Sanicola in Washington and Ben Blanchard in Taipei; Writing by Cassandra Garrison; Editing by Mark Porter, Richard Chang and Diane Craft and Miral Fahmy)