Posts Tagged 'elections'

Guatemala: Fed up with corruption (New Internationalist)

General elections in Guatemala usually follow a predictable pattern of propaganda, violence and despair. This year, three lacklustre centrist candidates – rightwing populist Manuel Baldizón who promises to reintroduce the death penalty, former first lady Sandra Torres and comedian Jimmy Morales – are vying for the presidency. But the build up to September’s vote has been anything but routine.

Guatemala is facing a political crisis that has seen tens of thousands march against repeated corruption scandals. The movement has toppled a plethora of high-ranking government officials.

“The youth are not willing to tolerate the corruption that earlier generations have grown accustomed to,” says Mario Polanco, a Guatemalan human rights activist.

The exposure – by a UN-backed anti-impunity commission – of a multi-million-dollar customs fraud scheme has led to the arrest of 20 state officials and the resignation of the vice-president and six ministers. But that was only the beginning.

Subsequent investigations prompted the jailing of the heads of the central bank and social security institute, cast doubts over individuals within the main opposition party and concluded that the country’s elections are flush with illegal money.  

Guatemala is no stranger to a protest; but in a deeply divided country, with a history of conflict between the rural and urban population, corruption fatigue has prompted an unprecedented display of unity.

“People who had never protested before came out onto the streets. People aged 50 or older protested against these abuses for the first time. Crucially, they protested alongside students from all kinds of universities, people of diverse economic and cultural backgrounds and gay people. Even in a country as machista as Guatemala, everyone was welcome,” said Polanco.

Emboldened by the imprisonment of dozens of suspects and the resignation of others, many protesters are calling for the elections to be postponed until Congress approves a series of electoral reforms.

Guatemala has struggled with high-level corruption for years, and few believe that swapping the current president for another will make a difference; what the country needs is a new constitution that mandates electoral reform, to bring in changes such as tighter rules about party financing.

But until that happens, one thing has changed, says Polanco. “The people won’t put up with these abuses any longer. They’ve become empowered and I’m sure they will continue protesting, even against corruption in the next government.”


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.”

The Death Sentence of Politics in Guatemala (New Internationalist)

Pick a number – any number – from 1 to 29 and I’ll give you a name; the name of a political candidate who has been murdered in the run up to this year’s presidential elections in Guatemala.

As preparations for the general elections in September increase, so too does the election-related violence. According to Rolando Loc, Director of Human Rights in Guatemala, 29 people have already been killed and many more injured in political violence in 2011 – prompting bulletproof vests to become the clothing of choice for many candidates.

Last month one politician, Luis Marroquin, was saved by wearing the ballistic attire after unidentified gunmen opened fire on him while he was driving just outside the capital, Guatemala City. The Líder party contender insisted that this latest act of violence would not persuade him to stand down. However, police have since arrested him on suspicion of staging the attack and being responsible for the killing of his rival candidates.

Empty Seats

San José Pinula, the municipality east of the capital where Marroquin was campaigning, now has two vacant places among its contenders for mayor – after both were shot dead in actions that local authorities said were not politically motivated. Another mayoral candidate for the same town recently announced he was suspending his election campaign due to the large volume of death threats he had received.

Human rights groups are joining together to urge authorities in Guatemala to fully investigate the series of alleged politically motivated killings. Amnesty International fears that, unless the government reacts to the atrocities, the ever-growing death toll will soon surpass that of the 2007 campaign, which registered 68 fatalities.

“The increase in politically related violence in the run-up to elections is a consequence of the state’s failure to tackle the persistent problem of impunity,” said Sebastian Elgueta, Central America Researcher at Amnesty International. “The authorities must send a clear message that political violence will not be tolerated, by promptly identifying all those responsible and bringing them to justice in fair trials that meet international standards.”

However the current president, Álvaro Colom, refuses to believe the murders are in any way connected to the election campaign. Consequently, nothing has been done to address the savage behaviour; violence and unregulated campaign financing continue to imperil the country’s political institutions.

With drug cartels battling over transport routes – the stakes are high

Recent reforms in the political system require parties to limit campaign spending and reveal their financial backers, but politicians have refused to disclose their financial records. Instead, they have entered into an exorbitant campaign that is expected to see record amounts of cash changing hands.

 It’s an ugly fight, of potentially dirty money, which threatens to indebt office-holders to unregulated financiers. And with authorities cowering in the shadows of impunity, can anything be done to halt the violence and corruption that typifies these elections?

With two and a half months left before Guatemalans head to the polls to elect a new government, many expect the bloodshed to proliferate. Agencies need to recognise and react to the alleged political murders, or politicians will be left wondering who will be the next victim of Guatemala’s 2011 presidential elections.

Twitter Updates

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.