What Bernardo Arévalo Believes

The Stances That Define Semilla's Candidate for Guatemalan President

What Bernardo Arévalo Believes. He has shown open support for Marxist presidents in the region such as Lula da Silva.

Bernardo Arévalo has shown open support for Marxist presidents in the region. (Sebastián Díaz)

Lee en español.

Key Findings:

  • Leftist Guatemalan Congressman Bernardo Arévalo of the Semilla party is set to face fellow leftist Sandra Torres of the Union for Hope party in the August 20 presidential runoff. Although legal complications continue, at the time of this writing the pair have emerged as the top two vote-getters in the June 25 election.
  • Arévalo, an underdog in the June election according to every pollster, is a progressive politician with a background in international organizations such as Interpeace and the UN Office for Project Services.
  • Arévalo’s campaign proposals include 10 key objectives that focus on wealth redistribution, environmentalism, and fighting income inequality. However, his platform also mentions the creation of modern frameworks that “encourage investment and competition.”


On June 25, 2023, Guatemala held general elections to choose a new president and vice president, 160 congressmen, 340 mayors, and 20 members of the Central American Parliament. According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE), 60.1 percent of the Guatemalan electoral register participated in these elections. That means absenteeism was 39.9 percent.

Sandra Torres, from the Union for Hope party (UNE), led the presidential race by getting 15.8 percent of the votes. Bernardo Arévalo, from the Semilla Party, got 11.8 percent. Not one pollster predicted Arévalo’s success in the first round of the election. For example, a Pro Data poll from June 22 reported that the Semilla candidate had 3 percent of intended votes.

Nine political parties requested that the TSE review the results. Therefore, on July 1, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court (CC) ordered the TSE to review the ballots.

After the reported review, on July 10 the Guatemalan Supreme Court of Justice (CSJ) allowed the TSE to validate the results. The SCJ denied the request of parties such as Cambio, Valor, Todos, Cabal, and Creo for the TSE to count every vote again. On July 14, the TSE ratified the presidential ballot’s results.

Who Is Bernardo Arévalo?

Born in Montevideo, Uruguay, in 1954, Bernardo Arévalo is a Guatemalan citizen on account of his parents’ place of birth. A social democrat, Arévalo has a doctorate in philosophy and anthropology from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, and he completed his undergraduate studies at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In May 2022, he was elected as Semilla’s secretary for the 2022–2025 term.

From 2005 to 2011, Arévalo served as director of a UN program to support peace talks in Israel, Palestine, Cyprus, and Liberia. The UN Office for Project Services and Interpeace—an NGO that advocates for peace—conducted the program. As a congressman, Arévalo—who is still in office—has participated in multiple congressional committees, including foreign affairs, social security, education, science, and technology.

In November 2021, Arévalo proposed a bill in Congress that would set price-caps on the Guatemalan pharmaceutical industry. He proposed “a network of public-sector pharmacies” with the purported goal of “reducing the costs of pharmaceuticals for all Guatemalans.” The bill, however, never passed. Regarding a different bill proposed by Arévalo in 2020, he said the “lack of market and price regulations” was one of the reasons why Guatemalans were having difficulty buying various products.

As a congressman in 2022, Arévalo voted against a bill that stiffened jail penalties for women who aborted and forbid sexual-diversity education in schools. All other Semilla congressmen also voted against the bill. On the campaign trail, however, Arévalo has said he will not make any changes to the Penal Code articles that refer to abortion.

Regarding the LGBT community, in May this year Arévalo said: “We will not allow any act of discrimination against you. We will protect you, and we will face hate speech with every tool available in the government.”

Arévalo’s father and former Guatemalan President Juan José Arévalo got into office (1945–1951) with the leftist Revolutionary Action Party and described himself as a socialist. Bernardo, in line with his father’s ideology, has openly expressed his derision towards Guatemala’s large enterprises. He specifically named CACIF as not serving Guatemalans. CACIF is an umbrella chamber of chambers (the Association Coordinator for Agriculture, Commerce, Industry, and Finance).

Arévalo, during a February interview, claimed that so-called trickle-down economics, which stems from tax reductions, does not work. In a different local media appearance, Arévalo expressed the need for Guatemalans to change the constitution to guarantee “the collective’s wellbeing.” This term (bienestar colectivo) has long been used by 21st-century socialist representatives such as Venezuelan dictator Hugo Chávez and his disciples. Arévalo’s nickname “Uncle Bernie” refers both to his name and to US socialist politician Bernie Sanders.

Bernardo Arévalo has shown open support for Marxist presidents in the region. For example, in October 2022, after Brazilian President Lula da Silva won his election, Arévalo tweeted: “This is a victory that strengthens Latin America’s search for a better future of the people.” However, Arévalo has criticized the Daniel Ortega regime in Nicaragua.


Arévalo contends Guatemala’s justice system is led by corrupt officials. If elected, he has pledged that he will ask the “jailed and exiled judges and prosecutors for assistance to eradicate corruption, since they have previously worked on this area.” With their support, Arévalo proposes a national anticorruption system to reduce arbitrary decisions, although what his touted legal framework would look like remains to be seen.

Semilla’s Controversies

In 2015, after the protests against former President Otto Pérez Molina (2012–2015), when he was accused of corruption, Semilla emerged as an informal political analysis roundtable. It later became a self-styled antiestablishment political party.

The party abides by five principles: democracy, equality, plurality, respect for nature, and the promotion of a “humane economy.” The latter, according to the party, refers to a system that “reduces poverty and avoids the exclusion of Guatemalans. Further, it should benefit most Guatemalans instead of a group of privileged families.”

Semilla first participated in the 2019 Guatemalan general elections. The party tried to nominate former Prosecutor General Thelma Aldana, a fugitive from Guatemalan justice living in the United States, as a presidential candidate.

Amid the ongoing electoral process, the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity (FECI) led by Rafael Curruchiche is carrying out an investigation of Semilla regarding complaints of falsified signatures for party registration. On July 12, Curruchiche announced the Seventh Criminal Court had suspended Semilla’s legal status, but the Guatemalan Constitutional Court blocked the suspension two days later.

According to the country’s Forensics Institute, the handwriting and signature brought forward for review were both false. FECI later unveiled there “are indications of thousands of people illegally registered as members of Semilla, through the falsification of documents.” The Public Ministry, in a July 14 statement, claimed the investigation does not “intend to interfere with the runoff nor disable the participation of any candidate.”

On July 21, the Public Ministry continued its investigation into Semilla’s signature falsification and raided the party’s headquarters. According to the ministry, the raid sought new information to bolster the case while “respecting resolutions by the Constitutional Court.”

Further, former Semilla Senator and founder Alberto Sánchez revealed alleged cases of under-the-table negotiations after resigning from the party’s leadership in May 2022. Sánchez said: “The Semilla Party always negotiated under the table, and I have the evidence to support my statement.” He added, “I perceived multiple questionable situations regarding most of the party’s leadership.” Sánchez, however, provided no further detail on his claims.

Arévalo’s Campaign Pledges

Arévalo expounds the need for a government that “organizes the economy in a sustainable manner, respecting the nature and the rights of present and future generations.” In addition, his government plan contemplates redistributive policies “to rule alongside the people.”

The plan constitutes 10 strategic objectives:

  1. Public investment of 110 billion ($14 billion), 61 billion ($7.7 billion), and 22 billion ($2.8 billion) quetzales during the upcoming presidential term for education, medical care, and public housing, respectively.
  2. Redesigned, broadened social assistance programs. The plan is to increase the number of elderly people who receive cash transfers from the state from 132,000 recipients to 200,000. Further, it seeks to increase the transfer amount for the elderly program by 25 percent, from 500 quetzales ($63) to 625 ($79) per month.
  3. A goal of increased access to drinking water from the current 88 to 95 percent. The plan assigns a budget of 16.5 billion quetzals ($2.1 billion) for this program.
  4. 27.1 billion quetzales ($3.5 billion) for improving highways, maritime ports, and airports. Further, the platform seeks the creation of a subway line in Guatemala City that is expected to cost 7.8 billion quetzales ($1 billion).
  5. The delivery of technological equipment such as tablets to youngsters between 13 and 16 years old. The estimated cost is 2.6 billion quetzales ($330 million). This is the section that contemplates a legal framework that “encourages investment and competition.”
  6. The hiring of 12,000 new police officials, specifically focused on retaking prisons from criminal control. The plan expects the state to spend 37.6 billion quetzales ($4.7 billion).
  7. Subsidies for so-called renewable energy to “stop climate change.” This will cost 7 billion quetzales ($900 million).
  8. More accessible consular services for Guatemalans abroad, which will cost 1.85 billion quetzales ($236 million) over four years.
  9. A modernized legal framework with a more profound implementation of digital government. The plan allocates 1.5 billion quetzales ($191 million).
  10. Public consultations with Guatemalans regarding how to reform medical care, public education, environmental protections, and economic development. This could be a hint at constitutional amendments.

Although Semilla—led by Arévalo—has yet to win the presidential runoff in August, its presence in Guatemala’s political scenario has ballooned during the general elections. Assuming valid June 25 results, Guatemala will have a leftist president in office for the 2024–2028 term.

Mauro Echeverría

Mauro Echeverría is Econ Americas’ deputy editor. He holds a BA in international relations with minors in political science and anthropology from the San Francisco University of Quito. Mauro leads the research on local economic development at the Ecuadorian think tank Libre Razón.

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