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2003-07-31 17:54:00
Embassy Guatemala
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						C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 GUATEMALA 001952 


E.O. 12958: DECL: 07/31/2013


Classified By: Charge d'Affiars David Lindwall for reason 1.5 (b) and (

1. (C) Summary: FRG leader Efrain Rios Montt was registered
as a presidential candidate on July 31, following a ruling by
the Constitutional Court ordering the electoral institutions
to carry out its decision to that effect of July 14 and void
all appeals. Opposition and civil society leaders called the
decision "illegitimate" and "the beginning of electoral
fraud," and presidential candidates called on the people to
defeat Rios Montt at the ballot box. OAS Electoral
Observation Mission reps expect the decision to put an
effective end to legal challenges to Rios Montt's candidacy.
While recognizing the lack of transparency of the decision,
the OAS reps did not question its constitutionality. With
the standoff over Rios Montt's participation in the elections
now, apparently, resolved, attention will shift from the
courts to the campaign trail. End summary.

2. (U) On July 30, the Constitutional Court ordered the
Registry of Persons and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal to
enforce its decision of July 14, allowing the registration of
former General Efrain Rios Montt as a presidential candidate
in the upcoming elections. The decision of the high court
further instructed the Supreme Court to dismiss all appeals
against this ruling, and to not accept further appeals which
would frustrate the ruling of the Constitutional Court. The
Constitutional Court ordered the lower courts to comply with
this decision within twelve hours. The Supreme Electoral
Tribunal and Registry of Persons convened during the night of
July 30 to carry out its instruction. Rios Montt was given
his credentials as a presidential candidate before the 6 a.m.

3. (U) Opposition and civil society leaders immediately
criticized the court's decision. The decision was described
as "partisan" and "illegitimate" by practically all
opposition leaders quoted in the press, and some called it
"the beginning of electoral fraud." GANA presidential
candidate Oscar Berger told reporters that "the resolution
may be legal, but it is illegitimate. Our strategy should be
to win at the ballot box on November 9." Presidential
candidates Bueso and Paiz said that the decision was a bad
one, but said it had to be accepted ("acatado"). Others in
civil society argued that the ruling was unconstitutional,
and that no one was obligated to carry out illegal orders.

4. (C) Members of the Dialogue Group (made up of Ambassadors
of donor nations and heads of international organizations and
international financial institutions) were meeting at the
time the Constitutional Court's decision was announced. The
unexpected decision by the court was viewed across the board
as a manipulation by the FRG, but there was a consensus that
resolving the issue once and for all -- even in Rios Montt's
favor -- did less violence to the electoral process than the
possibility of endless appeals and potential legal actions
against other candidacies.

5. (C) OAS Election Observation Mission member Moises Benamor
told us on the evening of July 30 that they believe the
Constitutional Court's decision will effectively put an end
to legal challenges to Rios Montt's candidacy. While there
are other appeals that could be filed and courts that may be
prepared to accept them, the Constitutional Court's decision
will put Rios Montt on the ballot and will deprive further
appeals of their basis in law. Benamor believes the Court's
finding will increase the level of political tension and
distrust in the electoral process, but stopped short of
questioning its constitutionality.

6. (SBU) The Constitutional Court's unexpected July 30 ruling
came about when the FRG filed a motion calling on the high
court to enforce its ruling of July 14. To hear this
request, the Court held a lottery (note: there is some debate
about the transparency of this lottery. End note) to select
an alternate justice to replace recused judge Saul Dighero.
Francisco Palomo (an FRG loyalist) was selected (Note:
Anti-FRG justices had been selected in the two previous
lotteries. With two out of five alternate magistrates being
supporters of the FRG, it was only a matter of time before a
lottery selected one of them, giving Rios Montt a 3-to-2
majority. End note). This newly conformed Court voted to
have the original members who issued the July 14 decision
resolve the FRG's request to have its decision enforced.
Predictably enough, they voted to order the Supreme Electoral
Tribunal and Registry of Persons to implement their decision.

7. (U) There has been little popular reaction to this latest
development. News reports claim that FRG leaders met at the
Presidential Palace on the night of July 30 to celebrate.
There were also unconfirmed reports of small numbers of FRG
supporters gathered at the Supreme Electoral Tribunal on the
morning of July 31 to celebrate. There have been no reports
of opposition protests.

8. (C) Comment: As one presidential candidate told
reporters, "nothing should surprise us anymore." The legal
actions for and against Rios Montt's candidacy have broken
new ground and stretched the interpretations of Guatemala's
constitution in precedent-setting ways. Those who have used
the courts to challenge Rios Montt's candidacy can be
expected to continue seeking legal avenues for their appeal.
However, the Constitutional Court's decision will effectively
move the debate from the legal arena to the campaign trail.