Discover more from Lazo Letters
On the brewing political crisis in Guatemala
A look inside my notebook.
There have been horrific natural disasters in Morocco and Libya this week, and much of the death and destruction is due to poor governance and shoddy infrastructure. If you want to donate to help the people digging their lives up from under the ruins, you can give cash directly to the victims in Morroco or give to the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent, which is working in Libya, here.
I spent another week of my life in Washington, lugging oversized bags of my belongings from my house to the train to Capitol Hill each morning, watching House Speaker Kevin McCarthy announce an impeachment inquiry of President Joe Biden, and witnessing how House Republicans refused to move forward with an $826 billion appropriations bill for defense. I never thought I’d see a day when Republican lawmakers didn’t want to fund the U.S. military, but here we are in 2023, a year in which nothing means what it used to mean.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky will be in Congress next week to presumably make the case for why Congress should pass the $24 billion supplemental appropriations bill the Biden administration requested for Ukraine. That might be a difficult mission, given that Congress appears incapable of getting most things done.
One of the things I like about my job is that I get to dig into what’s happening across the globe. Nowhere is technically off limits, and this week was no exception. I spoke to U.S. lawmakers about the growing humanitarian crisis in Nagorno Karabakh, the political crisis in Guatemala, and whether or not Washington should normalize trade relations with authoritarian regimes in Central Asia.
You’ll have to wait until next week to hear about that last one, but my article on Nagorno Karabakh is in the What I’m Writing section, and my interview with Congresswoman Norma Torres, the only member of Congress born in Central America, is in the Weekly News Blurbs Section. She called on Guatemala’s controversial Attorney General to resign.
But first, I wanted to give you a little peek into my reporter’s notebook. My conversation with Rep. Torres was longer than what could fit into National Journal’s daily newsletter, so I decided to transcribe the rest of our conversation here so you could read what she thinks about events in Guatemala. The interview was very lightly edited for clarity.
Cristina: Guatemala recently elected a new anti-corruption, leftist president, Bernardo Arévalo. How consequential for Guatemala is his election?
Rep. Torres: I think it’s very consequential. He was initially not the candidate of choice for anyone. His polling was very low initially. But the interference from the [Alejandro] Giammatei regime caused all of the most popular candidates to be either arrested or refused an opportunity to be on the ballot.
I think the steps Giammatei has taken to impede a peaceful transfer of power is something the world needs to watch.
I’m very happy to hear that France and some of the G20 partner countries are making comments on this issue.
Arévalo announced this week he is temporarily suspending the presidential transition after officials from the Attorney General’s office raided electoral facilities. What do you think of that response?
For the president-elect, I think he’s on the right track. He talked about the right issues. The people of Guatemala, living in Guatemala, are very concerned about the public corruption piece. He is very committed to ensuring that there is a new reset for Guatemala.
Do you think the Attorney General should resign?
I do. She has been nothing but a henchwoman for the corrupt elite, not just in her reappointment but the entire 5 or 6 years she’s been in this position.
Do you believe there is a coordinated attack against Arévalo’s party, Moviemiento Semilla, right now?
Absolutely. The [former first lady of Guatemala] Sandra Torres campaign made them out to be socialists more aligned with Cuban and Venezuelan politics when that could not be further from the truth.
You look at the President-elect himself and his long record in serving the public and making the right choices for transparency and accountability in all of the positions that he has served. He has proved himself to be something other than what they’re making him out to be.
How do you assess the Biden administration and the State Department’s response?
I think they have been on point. I have been very happy to see how they responded quickly, and they didn’t wait for a call from my office to respond, which was my struggle in the entire four years of the Trump administration.
When President Biden was Vice President, he was very active in the region. Because of that work, he pushed them to create a plan for prosperity, a plan for security.
We were working on creating safe houses and safe places for people to go and process their asylum applications so they wouldn’t have to take that trip north.
But when the Trump administration came in, they undid all that work. So many people from the State Department who had the historical knowledge of the region left or were pushed out.
I expected Guatemala to fall back. I didn’t expect it to fall back this far, unfortunately.
What I’m writing:
• Lawmakers and legal experts warn that Azerbaijan may be conducting ethnic cleansing and genocide in Nagorno Karabakh. They're calling on the Biden administration to respond with urgency.
Azerbaijan is allegedly amassing weapons and forces near the line of contact with Nagorno-Karabakh, just as Russia did in the lead-up to its invasion of Ukraine last year. People on the ground say an attack by Azerbaijan on Armenia is also not out of the question. This story is unlocked and free to read.
My weekly news blurbs:
What I’m reading:
• The Earth is exceeding its “safe operating space for humanity” in most key measurements, a group of international scientists said in the Science Advances journal.
• This is a cool essay in Engelsberg Ideas about the Turkish influence in C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia.
• Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, called for a significant expansion of the bloc to include Ukraine, the New York Times reports. The EU’s top official also envisioned Moldova, several Western Balkan countries, and Georgia entering the EU over the next few years.
• Ukraine is prepared to change its laws on minority rights – including rules on secondary education in minority languages like Hungarian – to unlock European Union agreements on opening accession talks, the Financial Times reports.
• Russian President Vladimir Putin referred to the criminal cases against former U.S. President Donald Trump as political “persecution” that exposes U.S. weakness, the Wall Street Journal reports.
• Amid the growing suppression of the few remaining vocal critics of the government, a fierce campaign has been launched against "no war" activists in Azerbaijan, EurasiaNet reports.
• The United States and Armenia began joint military exercises, signaling the possible realignment of a Russian neighbor that has been a close ally to Moscow for almost 200 years, the Wall Street Journal reports.
• Romanians living close to Ukraine were urged to shelter as Russia struck Ukrainian ports across the Danube, the BBC reports.
• As 30 allied European countries spend more on weapons, there are growing concerns that their efforts will be disjointed, duplicated, and delayed, according to a Center for Strategic and International Studies report.
• Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez is considering a sweeping amnesty to annul pending legal action and sanctions against Catalan independence leaders over their involvement in a failed bid to secede in 2017, Politico Europe reports. The amnesty is the main condition proposed by the pro-independence Junts party in exchange for its support for Sánchez to secure another term in office.
• Brazil’s judiciary will need to decide whether Russian President Vladimir Putin will be arrested if he attends next year’s Group of 20 summit in Brazil, President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said. Reuters has the report.
• A political crisis in Guatemala continues to deepen, as President-elect Bernardo Arevalo said he was suspending his participation in the government transition over raids on electoral tribunal facilities, Al Jazeera reports.
• Isolated villages in Morocco’s High Atlas are in a race against time to find those trapped under the rubble after an earthquake hit the region around Marrakesh, New Lines Magazine reports.
• The floods ravaging eastern Libya destroyed a quarter of the coastal city of Derna and left bodies in the street, the Washington Post reports. Libya’s two rival governments are coordinating relief efforts for flood victims.
• About ten people died after five days of fighting in Ein el-Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp in Lebanon, between the Fatah movement of President Mahmoud Abbas and Islamist groups, the BBC reports.
• Volker Perthes, the United Nations special envoy to Sudan, announced he was stepping down and warned that “What started as a conflict between two military formations could be morphing into a full-blown civil war,” Reuters reports.
• Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu, who has been absent for the last two weeks, is under investigation for corruption and will likely be removed, the Washington Post reports.
You can write to me for any reason: email@example.com