I am the first to divorce for Guatemala (New Internationalist)


In a race that has been plagued by violence, murders and unregulated campaign financing, it’s not so much a question of who is running in Guatemala’s general elections, but who is not.

Despite exorbitantly expensive campaign trails, which have consumed the country’s landscape with political propaganda, constitution entanglement has denied a number of applicants from competing for the top prize.

Originally, a religious minister, a military officer, an ex-president, a president’s wife and the daughter of a former dictator all threw their hats into the ring. However, not all of them are still contending; officials have been going back and forth on who is allowed to stand in the elections on 11 September.

Sandra Torres, wife turned ex-wife of the current president Álvaro Colom, ignited controversy back in March when she filed for divorce in order to skirt a law which prohibits relatives of the president from taking power.

Citing “love for her country” as the reason why she was seeking to dissolve her marriage, she said: “I am neither the first nor the last woman to divorce in this country. But I am the first to divorce for Guatemala.”

The divorce was granted by a judge, but her application for candidacy was repeatedly denied by the courts.

A Swiss-born candidate originally had his request rejected since he was not of ‘Guatemalan origin’, but then accepted days later. Officials were also undecided on an evangelical minister; initially dismissing him on religious grounds and then subsequently allowed.

One of the few candidates free of legal impediments is the strong favourite, Otto Pérez Molina. The former general narrowly lost out in a run-off vote to Colom in the 2007 general elections; and the curious fact remains in Guatemala that the person who came second in the previous election will win the next.

However, a number of campaign groups are petitioning for Pérez Molina to be investigated for human rights violations during Guatemala’s 30-year civil war, which ended in 1996.

In 2007 he promised an ‘iron fist’ against crime and since then the country has become far more dangerous with one of the highest murder rates in Latin America. According to the World Health Organization, Guatemala has an average of 50 deaths per 100,000 citizens – five times the world average – and in some cities it is more than 200 deaths.

After four years of a soft-spoken leader, some Guatemalans might prefer an ex-army man running the country; for others his involvement in the war is still too painful.

Among the nine presidential candidates, there is also an ex-con who started campaigning three days after being released from prison and a man who promises to take Guatemala to the FIFA World Cup if he gets elected.

Latin America’s one-term presidential policy, a safeguard against dictatorial rule, means all 158 seats of Congress are up for grabs and the presidential vote will probably go to a second round in November.

Many Guatemalans are resigned to the fact that these elections won’t bring about the change their country so desperately needs and say: “It’s not about choosing who’s best for the country, but who’s the least worst.”


1 Response to “I am the first to divorce for Guatemala (New Internationalist)”

  1. 1 Axuan September 13, 2011 at 2:56 pm

    “Divorce for Guatemala” … not even Garcia Marquez could have invented Guatemala’s realities… often an insult to common intelligence.

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