Latin American bishops show solidarity with Guatemalan cardinal amid threats
BUENOS AIRES (OSV News) -- The Latin American and Caribbean bishops' conference has expressed solidarity with Cardinal Álvaro Ramazzini of Huehuetenango, Guatemala, after the prelate said he had been told that judicial officials are seeking his arrest and the country's outgoing government sent a strongly worded letter to the apostolic nuncio.
The conference -- commonly known as CELAM -- said in a statement that it "expresses solidarity and closeness" with Cardinal Ramazzini "in the face of false information that has been spread in recent days and constitutes an attack on his dignity and moral integrity."
The Dec. 4 letter signed by a conference president, Archbishop Jaime Spengler of Porto Alegre, Brazil, and the executive council continued, "Cardinal Ramazzini is a witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ incarnated in the poorest, whose voice reveals the feelings of a people who seek ways to express their just demands. This is the mission of the entire Church and that is why we stand alongside Cardinal Ramazzini, echoing his struggles and concerns."
The concern for Cardinal Ramazzini comes amid tensions in Guatemala, where President-elect Bernardo Arévalo is scheduled to take office Jan. 14, but has confronted attempts by the federal prosecutor's office to disqualify his Seed Movement (Semilla) political party and attempts to undermine his election and obstruct his transition to power.
Arévalo overwhelmingly won an Aug. 20 runoff election on an anti-corruption agenda, taking nearly 61% of the vote.
The cardinal said in a Nov. 30 radio interview that he had been told of plans to have him arrested. He also revealed that the government of outgoing President Alejandro Giammattei sent a strongly worded letter to the apostolic nuncio in Guatemala City.
"He literally told me this is a very strong letter against you," Cardinal Ramazinni said the nuncio told him. "I have not had access to that letter, nor did I ask him to show it to me because I did not think it was prudent."
Guatemala's public ministry said it is not investigating Cardinal Ramazzini, according to Guatemalan media.
Cardinal Ramazzini and the Guatemalan bishops' conference have repeatedly called for the election results to be respected and for the victor to take office.
In September, the bishops shared their indignation when the Guatemalan public ministry was attempting to strip the immunity of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal members, so that they could be investigated for alleged anomalies in the data transmission system used in the elections.
"We ask Almighty God to protect Guatemala, to protect its democracy and to protect its legality; that in these bitter hours He may guide us to move forward as a country, in democracy and freedom; we urge everyone to act with serenity and sanity," said a Sept. 30 statement by the Guatemalan bishops.
Later, according to media reports, the public ministry seized electoral materials under the tribunal's custody and raided the offices and storage facilities that housed election results, which was condemned by the U.S. and other international entities.
In November, a Guatemalan prosecutor tried to strip Arévalo's immunity, accusing him and his running mate of an unrelated charge, in what was seen as an attempt to overturn the election results, according to Reuters. On Dec. 1, Guatemala's ruling-party-led Congress "stripped four electoral judges accused of fraud of their immunity from prosecution," Reuters reported.
On Dec. 4, journalist Juan Sicán Aquino posted to X comments by Archbishop Gonzalo de Villa of Santiago de Guatemala addressing the concerns for Cardinal Ramazzini. "I don't think there's a major problem with Cardinal Ramazzini. With Guatemala, there is," said the archbishop. "We are doing badly as a country. We are on the verge of breaking the rule of law."
Protests erupted across Guatemala, with at least 80 roads being blocked at one point as demonstrators called for the resignation of Attorney General Consuelo Porras, who has been hit with sanctions by the U.S. Department of State for allegedly impeding anti-corruption efforts. Protest organizers at one point proposed Cardinal Ramazzini as a moderator.
Cardinal Ramazzini has been outspoken on poverty, Indigenous issues and the impact of mining -- issues long impacting his diocese in western Guatemala, where outward migration is rife. His activism has caused consternation in conservative circles, according to church observers.
"The person and pastoral works of Cardinal Ramazzini constitute a voice in favor of human rights, especially of vulnerable and discarded people. But at no time have they constituted a crime or contravened the rule of law, nor are they against the mission of the Church," said the Latin American and Caribbean Network on Migration, Displacement and Trafficking, known as Red CLAMOR, a group of more than 600 church organizations of which Cardinal Ramazzini is the president.
"We trust in the Guatemalan authorities' goodwill and respect for the validity of the rule of law," the statement concluded. "We hope that their democratic processes take into consideration the common good of all Guatemalans and respect for the fundamental rights of all people."
- - - David Agren writes for OSV News from Mexico City. He is currently reporting from Buenos Aires.