New! Guatemalan Elections - News, Interviews & Links Guatemala Elections



US press coverage of Guatemala’s presidential primary elections was lamentable. None of the eight news dailies monitored by ISLA managed to send a correspondent to Guatemala by the end of August, missing the entire campaign. Nevertheless, veteran Washington Post reporter, William Booth, provided two excellent pieces from Mexico, while Alex Renderos from the Los Angeles Times, shot off an insightful article from El Salvador.

The run off elections will be in November and merit a watchful eye. The US is currently working with the Colom administration to tackle drug trafficking, a burgeoning problem fueling violence. The United Nations ranked Guatemala third in the world for homicides. The cornerstone of Guatemala’s anti-drug strategy is to treat drug use and distribution as a crime, rather than a public health issue, using the police and armed forces to enforce this strategy -replicating Washington’s patently unsuccessful approach.

In June 2011, Hillary Clinton pledged $300 million in anti-drug aid to Central America for 2011, a 10% increase from 2010. However, the two presidential hopefuls have documented objectionable ties, unlike President Colom. Front-runner, Otto Perez Molina is inextricably tied to rampant human rights violations during the war in which 200,000 died. His contender, Manuel Baldizon, has ties to drug traffickers. Will the US government provide aid, arms and intelligence to either of these men? Possible repercussions do not bode well for Guatemala.

Given the gravity of the situation, we invite you to benefit from the election-related insights of ISLA associates Luis Solano and Josue Revelorio, both of whom responded to questions left unasked by the US press, though of looming importance in understanding events in the years to come. We have also provided links to additional information on the subject.

Karen Crump, ISLA


Interview with Luis Solano, El Observador (Guatemala)

How much impact has the perceived weakness of the Colom government had on the
electorate’s rightward swing, as opposed to the lack of an official candidate?

I think that after four years of government, any elected official in Guatemala ends up weakened
and lacking credibility. In part, because they are unable to deliver on campaign promises, but
mostly because an inability to lower crime rates and the violence afflicting society. Public safety
and the inability of any government to turn the steadily deteriorating situation around, is without a
doubt the most significant factor facing every government since 1986.

Additionally, the groups in power and the media have become the current government’s primary
opponents, working together to assure that the current government is unable to remain in power.

Every presidential candidate since 1986 has put fighting crime at the forefront of his or her
campaign, and all have failed. In fact, the situation has deteriorated and this is the fundamental
issue for voters. In truth, it doesn’t matter if the candidate is from the right or the left. The most
important factor in the eyes of the electorate is that the candidate’s campaign project a viable
strategy for combating crime, especially in the capital where the majority of voters are located and
the rightwing is concentrated.

It should be noted that despite the absence of an official candidate, following the disqualification
of Sandra Torres, the governing party (UNE) didn’t come out too badly. A strong presence in
Congress and wins at the municipal level will force the incoming government to negotiate with
Sandra Torres’s party and pretty much set up a co-governing situation. Although the rightwing
garnered the most votes in the electoral process, with the military’s Otto Perez Molina in the
lead, this does not mean that he has a mandate. As has been the case in the many elections,
the winner has been the individual receiving the most votes in Guatemala City. However, it is
clear that the people who voted for Perez Molina did not necessarily vote for his party at the
Congressional or municipal level.

How do you interpret front-runner, Otto Perez Molina’s, success at the polls, despite a
well-documented association with egregious human rights abuses during the war?

In this case, the age of the voters was important. Perez Molina received strong support from
young people who don’t know much about the war, are unaware of what occurred, and are
uninformed regarding the military’s previous role in government, before, after and during the
war. They do not know about Perez Molina’s history. Others voted for Perez Molina out of
desperation, looking for a solution to the rampant violence in the country. The army is often seen
as salvation, the only power that can establish order and provide security. Perez Molina voters
are concentrated in the capital where crime and violence are readily apparent and a daily event.

Perez Molina also received a great deal of positive press. Nearly every Guatemalan newspaper
and magazine, and almost all the radio stations supported his candidacy either openly or to a
certain degree. This occurred because the most powerful business sector financed his campaign.

Although it is difficult to gauge whether WINAQ (lead by Rigoberta Menchu) is gaining
support from one election to the next, since it joined the Frente Amplio for this race, it is
clear that support remains extremely limited. Why isn’t Menchu a stronger candidate given
her longstanding activism, Nobel Peace Prize and laudable efforts on behalf of indigenous
people in the United Nations?

WINAQ is not a true political party, as is the case with the other groups forming the Broad
Front. All of the groups comprising the Broad Front are in a state of crisis and see the elections
as a temporary solution, although insufficient in terms of rebuilding a truly leftwing party able
to effectively vie in future elections. WINAQ’s party structure is very weak and only exists in
certain parts of the country. However, the problem extends beyond electoral politics. The left in
Guatemala needs to pass through a difficult reconstruction process, not as a political party, but a
political force determined to break up entrenched political and economic powers. Serious analysis
and self-evaluation need to take place. Non-partisan political structures need to be built, activists
formed, and schools and think tanks reflecting a leftwing perspective developed. A tight bond with
the population emanating from a network spanning across the country is the only way to generate
ideas and understanding.

Rigoberta Menchu has not been able to accomplish any of this. Her name is very well known
in certain social circles, but she remains detached from most of the population. Guatemala is a
country where sexism and racism abound. An indigenous woman has those two strikes against
her. Nevertheless, forming part of a political party, albeit a weak political party, contributes to
projecting her as a true option for the left. If Menchu wants to gain political prominence, she will
have to begin working at the grassroots level, in the communities, become more familiar with the
people in these communities. When this happens, she will be accepted as a valid political option.
High profile media opportunities will not enhance her viability as a candidate.

How do you see this election playing out in November?

Nearly all Guatemalan newspapers and magazines projected Perez Molina as the sure-fire
winner in the primary elections –doubting the need for a run-off. This was surely the greatest
media scam of our time and it didn’t succeed. Now the Patriotic Party (PP) has its back against
the wall. The second place winner, Manuel Baldizon of the Leader Party, saw his support grow
during the last three months before the primary elections. Shortly following the elections, PP
support was jeopardized by the alliances made by Baldizon’s Leader Party, putting the Leader
Party ahead in the polls. The PP is now running the risk of the “1990 Syndrome”. Presidential
elections in 1990 were marked by blanket support in the press for one candidate: Jorge Carpio
Nicolle of the Union del Centro Nacional (UCN). Carpio was supported by the nation’s most
prominent economic groups and won in the primary elections, although he did not get enough
votes to avoid a run-off election. The Movimiento de Accion Solidaria (MAS) candidate, Jorge
Serrrano Elias’s, came in second during the primaries, although it ranked fourth in pre-election
polls. The press was greatly surprised to see the MAS in second place and later, even more
surprised when they won in the second round, defeating the UCN. Serrano Elias became
president much to the consternation of the major economic groups.

Otto Perez Molina, along with the Guatemalan media supporting him, are well aware of the 1990
Syndrome. The polling firms are on very bad footing, having lost credibility. The Guatemalan
media’s credibility took a blow as well, since they were responsible for disseminating faulty
information. The pre-election poll farce aided the PP in the first round, but will certainly not be of
assistance in the final round. I would not be surprised to see the Leader Party win the presidency.
However, if the PP were to win, it would have an opposition dominated Congress, forcing it to
negotiate and co-govern with Sandra Torres’s party, the UNE. On the other hand, if Baldizon
wins, the Leader Party would be in an even worse position, as it has only slight representation in
Congress. It would have to work with UNE to govern as well.


Interview with ISLA associate, Josue Revolorio

Any observations on the Guatemalan media’s election coverage?

It appears that Otto Perez Molina was able to buy support from Prensa Libre and other media
sources. He surely tightened his bond with Mr. Gonzalez, a Mexican media mogul controlling
television stations throughout Latin America, and a generous campaign donator.

How much impact did the perceived weakness of the Colom government have on the
electorate’s rightward swing, as opposed to the lack of an official candidate?

The impact is huge, since the electorate sees Colom as a weak president and has been influenced
by rumors that Colom may be gay. The electorate perceives Sandra Torres as the decision-maker,
not Alvaro Colom. Also, there’s a perception that his administration was even more corrupt than
Portillo’s .

Although it is difficult to gauge whether WINAQ (lead by Rigoberta Menchu) is gaining
support from one election to the next, since it joined the Frente Amplio for this race, it
is clear that support remains extremely limited. Why isn’t Menchu a stronger candidate
given her longstanding activism, Nobel Peace Prize and laudable efforts on behalf of
indigenous people in the United Nations?

There are a couple of different factors associated with Menchu’s lack of electoral support. Once
she returned to Guatemala, Menchu distanced herself from the grassroots organizations she once
belonged to, including the Comite de Unidad Campesina –CUC—and the Comite Nacional de
Viudas de Guatemala –CONAVIGUA. They had invited her to continue working together. Then,
Menchu accepted the position of Good Will Ambassador during the Berger administration –
associating herself with a right wing political party. This official post kept her traveling around
the world, while distancing her further from her own people.

Furthermore, most people frown upon her decision to change the name of the foundation she
runs: The Rigoberta Menchu Foundation. Originally, the Foundation was named after her father.
This was commonly perceived as the act of an individual more interested in personal gain than
working with and for the people. One last factor is her lack of charisma and leadership, aptly
articulated by a well respected icon in Guatemala just a couple of days ago, and reinforcing the
lack of trust Rigoberta inspires as a political figure:

“Winaq con gorgojo
José Barnoya (Opinión en ElPeriódico)
Muy de mañana del 11 de septiembre, me planté frente a la mesa 878 dispuesto a depositar el
voto. De espaldas a la mesa, tomé la papeleta y coloqué una equis entusiasta sobre los símbolos
del Frente Amplio, al que identifiqué por la mazorca revolucionaria. Ayer me enteré que el
gorgojo neoliberal, si bien no había infestado a la mazorca, sí había carcomido a Winaq y a su
abanderada Rigoberta Menchú, quien ofrendó su mano campesina a un líder de la demagogia.
Lástima que la Premio Nobel de la Paz no lo manifestó antes, pues ese domingo de septiembre
hubiera tachado las efigies de todos los candidatos con las palabras: voto nulo.”

How do you see this election playing out in November?

This is a very hard election that clearly shows all the weaknesses and ineffectiveness of the
electoral system in Guatemala. Many people feel trapped, since there is no real option between
the two remaining “options”. The two final contenders are from right wing parties, both have
strong ties to the drug-traffickers, and the one perceived as the potential winner has a genocidal
background. Worst of all, the people in Guatemala don’t know what to do about it, they feel
frustrated and afraid of falling afoul of these two bad candidates under whose administrations,
the country’s resources will be even more rapidly depleted, and violence will increase

Additional links

The Peten Report

Otto Perez the profile: by his actions he shall be known

NISGUA’s statement

Dear friend,

On Sunday, Guatemalans turned out to vote for president, congressional
representatives and local leadership.

Guatemala's next president will be decided in a runoff election, though retired
General Otto Pérez Molina of the Patriot Party is favored to win after receiving
36.03% of the national vote, according to preliminary statistics from Guatemala's
electoral authorities. In the runoff on November 6th, he will face Manuel Baldizón,
of the Renewed Democratic Freedom party, or LIDER (LIbertad Democrática Renovada).
Baldizón received 23.21% of the vote on Sunday.

The national electoral tribunal has been widely criticized for its performance in
this year's election, taking almost a full day after polls closed to tally 98% of
the vote and releasing no final numbers to date. See Prensa Libre's
regularly updated interactive map (in Spanish) for the latest results.

Otto Pérez Molina's "Mano Dura" (Iron Fist) campaign has been followed closely by
human rights activists who express concern about the retired general's role during
the internal armed conflict. Pérez Molina was a commanding officer in the Ixil
region during the peak of the military's counter-insurgency campaigns. Baldizón's
campaign included a call for the reinstatement of the death penalty and promises to
introduce populist initiatives, like a salary bonus for workers, unlikely to pass in

In a recent interview with the independent Guatemalan web magazine Plaza Pública (in
Spanish), Pérez Molina denied the military's responsibility for war crimes, saying,
"I want someone to prove to me that there was genocide" in Guatemala. Both
candidates promote an increased role for the military in ensuring public safety and
fighting crime and drug trafficking. These positions provoke doubts about the
policies of the incoming government with regards to legal cases seeking justice for
crimes of the past, as well as the effectiveness of a military solution to crime
that could jeopardize human rights.

While the presidential elections have garnered more media attention, Sunday's vote
also included local elections. See a preliminary list (in Spanish) of candidates who won local mayoral elections.
Municipal leadership plays a key role in local politics, controlling local
development projects and affecting the outcome of local struggles in the face of megaprojects and natural resource extraction.

The elections have an impact. Yet ongoing grassroots struggles for
self-determination and justice will keep moving regardless of the results.

We thank you for your support and solidarity,



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