A wave of political turbulence is rolling through Guatemala and other Central American countries

by Gabriel Martinez
Political unrest in Central America

Central American countries are currently engulfed in a wave of political turmoil that is unprecedented even for a region known for its history of unrest. One country experiencing significant political upheaval is Guatemala, as it approaches a presidential runoff election in August.

Here’s an overview of the political situation in various Central American countries:


Guatemala is currently embroiled in its most turbulent presidential election in recent memory. The initial round of voting in June yielded an unexpected twist when a relatively unknown progressive candidate named Bernardo Arévalo from the Seed Movement party emerged as a front-runner.

Arévalo has managed to withstand judicial attacks and attempts by Guatemala’s political establishment to disqualify his party. Despite prior efforts by the country’s government to manipulate the election, such as banning several candidates before the first-round vote, Arévalo has persevered. However, this escalating situation has been deemed a threat to Guatemala’s democracy by American officials.

El Salvador:

In recent years, El Salvador has undergone a radical transformation with the rise of its populist millennial President Nayib Bukele. Bukele initiated an aggressive campaign against the Barrio 18 and Mara Salvatruchas (MS-13) gangs, suspending constitutional rights and imprisoning a significant number of citizens. These actions have raised allegations of widespread human rights abuses.

Although Bukele’s tactics initially led to a sharp decline in violence, his elaborate propaganda machinery and populist agenda have sparked a fervor across the region, with other governments attempting to emulate his approach. Furthermore, Bukele has announced his intention to run for reelection in violation of the constitution, and his actions have raised concerns about the gradual erosion of democracy in the country.


In Nicaragua, President Daniel Ortega has intensified his crackdown on dissent. In recent years, both regional watchdogs and the U.S. government have raised alarms about the erosion of democracy under the leadership of the Sandinista National Liberation Front. The situation reached a boiling point in 2018 when Ortega’s government violently suppressed protests.

More recently, Ortega has forced numerous opposition figures into exile, revoked their citizenship, seized their assets, and labeled them as “traitors of the homeland.” The government’s tightening grip on power has led to the expulsion of aid groups like the Red Cross, and the Catholic Church has faced a prolonged crackdown, resulting in the closure of the Vatican embassy. As a result, many Nicaraguans have sought refuge in neighboring Costa Rica or the United States.


Last year, Xiomara Castro became the first female president of Honduras, running on a platform to address corruption, inequality, and poverty. However, her popularity has waned as many of her promises for change remain unfulfilled. Concurrently, the government has pursued a harsh approach against gangs, taking cues from neighboring El Salvador, particularly in response to a brutal massacre in a women’s prison in June.

Costa Rica:

Costa Rica, once renowned for its peaceful reputation compared to its neighbors, has witnessed an alarming increase in violence that threatens its status as a safe haven. Homicide rates have surged as the country has become a base for drug traffickers. President Rodrigo Chavez, who assumed office last year, has pledged to deploy more police officers and enact stricter laws to combat the escalating crime.

Furthermore, Costa Rica has faced a significant influx of migrants from Nicaragua, straining the nation’s capacity to provide refuge to those fleeing persecution. Consequently, the government has implemented stricter asylum laws.


Panama is heading into presidential elections in May against a backdrop of simmering discontent due to economic challenges, corruption, and insecurity. Any political shift in Panama, given its status as a financial hub, could have global implications.

Moreover, the country has become a focal point for a steady flow of migrants traversing the perilous jungles of the Darien Gap, which stretches along the Colombia-Panama border.


Belize is often viewed as a relatively peaceful country within a tumultuous region. Although it was once a British colony known as British Honduras, Belize’s government system still maintains strong ties to the United Kingdom. However, Prime Minister Johnny Briceño has taken steps to distance the nation from the monarchy. Additionally, Belize remains one of the few countries in the Americas to maintain formal relations with Taiwan, amidst China’s efforts to diminish support for the island nation by investing in Central America.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) about Political unrest in Central America

What is the current political situation in Central America?

Central America is experiencing a wave of political unrest, with various countries facing unique challenges. Guatemala is in the midst of a troubled presidential election, while El Salvador has a populist leader and ongoing concerns about human rights. Nicaragua is facing a crackdown on dissent, Honduras has a female president dealing with corruption, and Costa Rica is grappling with rising violence and migration. Panama is heading into presidential elections, and Belize is navigating its ties with the United Kingdom and China.

What is happening in Guatemala’s presidential election?

Guatemala’s presidential election is marked by political turbulence. The surprise rise of progressive candidate Bernardo Arévalo has led to a runoff with conservative candidate Sandra Torres. Arévalo has faced judicial attacks and attempts to disqualify his party, raising concerns about Guatemala’s democracy.

How has El Salvador changed under its populist president?

El Salvador has witnessed significant changes under its populist millennial President Nayib Bukele. He launched an aggressive campaign against gangs, suspended constitutional rights, and faced allegations of human rights abuses. While initially reducing violence, Bukele’s tactics and disregard for democratic norms have raised concerns about the erosion of democracy in the country.

What is the situation in Nicaragua?

Nicaragua is undergoing an all-out crackdown on dissent under President Daniel Ortega. The government’s violent response to protests, forced exile of opposition figures, crackdown on the Catholic Church, and expulsion of aid groups have prompted concerns about human rights and democratic erosion.

What are the key challenges facing Costa Rica?

Costa Rica is facing rising violence and has become a base for drug traffickers, tarnishing its reputation as a secure haven. The country is also dealing with an influx of migrants from Nicaragua, straining its capacity to provide refuge. President Rodrigo Chavez has pledged to increase police presence and enact tougher laws to address the crime surge.

What is happening in Panama?

Panama is heading into presidential elections amidst frustration over economic woes, corruption, and insecurity. The country’s status as a financial hub adds global significance to any potential political shift. Additionally, Panama has become a major migration route through the dangerous Darien Gap along the Colombia-Panama border.

What is notable about Belize’s political situation?

Belize is known for relative calm, but Prime Minister Johnny Briceño has sought to distance the nation from its British colonial past. The country maintains formal ties with Taiwan, defying China’s efforts to diminish support for the island nation in Central America.

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SarahBelle91 July 16, 2023 - 10:36 am

It’s like a rollercoaster ride in Central America right now! Guatemala’s election is full of drama and surprises, while El Salvador’s leader is stirring up controversy. Nicaragua is cracking down on dissent, and Costa Rica is grappling with rising violence. Panama is heading into elections amidst frustration, and Belize is navigating its ties with Britain and China. So much going on, it’s hard to keep up!

LatinTraveler July 16, 2023 - 6:35 pm

Central America is in the midst of a political storm! Guatemala’s election is causing quite a stir, and El Salvador’s leader is making some questionable moves. Nicaragua’s crackdown on dissent is alarming, and the rising violence in Costa Rica is concerning. Panama’s upcoming elections have everyone on edge, while Belize is caught in the middle of a complex diplomatic situation. Hold on tight, it’s a wild ride in the region!

JohnDoe22 July 16, 2023 - 10:04 pm

wow, central america is like so messed up right now with all this political stuff goin on. guatemala’s election is like all troubled and stuff, and el salvador got this dude who’s all populistic and doin some not so cool things. nicaragua is crackin down on ppl who don’t agree with the prez, and costa rica got all this violence and migrashun happening. panama got elections too and there’s frustration goin on. belize is kinda calm but they gotta figure out their britain and china thing. crazy times!


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