As a destination for frequent trips over the past several years, Guatemala holds a special place in my heart. With great interest, I have been following Guatemala's presidential campaign and it's wake of violence and political fallout. Just 10 years removed from the peace accords that ended a 36-year-long civil war, this small country is in the midst of the deadliest presidential campaign since that war ended. Leading up to the presidential primary in September, 59 murders and 89 attacks on political leaders and their families were recorded (and those are just the reported attacks in a country notorious for unreported violence).
The winners of the primary, Otto Pérez Molina and Alvaro Colom, will face each other in the November 9th final election, and along with 12 other candidates from various parties, they spent nearly $100 Million US leading up to the primary. This is an alarming number for such a small (13 million) and poor country, leading many in the international community to criticize Guatemala's fractious and inefficient multi-party system. Among the candidates was the first indigenous female presidential candidate, internationally know Rigoberta Menchú. In a country with 22 different ethnic Mayan populations, her indigenous status did not seem help; part of the reason stems from the fact that machismo is still rampant in Guatemala, but more even, I think, because of those ethnic divisions.
Now that Colom and Molina are set to face off on November 9, the number one issue of the campaign has resurfaced: violence. With organized crime on the rise in the capital city and other urban areas, and the murder rate increasing at an alarming pace, Guatemalans seemed to be leaning toward the former-military authoritarian Molina, who has promised to be tough on crime and whose Patriot Party's logo is a clenched fist. During the civil war, Molina led troops in an area of Guatemala that saw some of the most brutal treatment of indigenous peoples, though as is often mentioned, he also played a key role in the 1996 Peace Accords. Colom is a bit more of a mystery, and I've seen several articles refer to him as "gentler" and seeking to reduce crime by reducing poverty and improving the quality of life for all Guatemalans (ie, more free trade and allowing more foreign business investment). Both candidates are from Guatemala's rich, isolated ruling elite.
In the end, I will always be skeptical of progress in a Guatemala that allows Effrain Rios Montt, former dictator and perpetrator of some of the worst war crimes in the Western Hemisphere, to continue serving in the legislature. This is a man who does not dare leave Guatemala for fear of being detained and charged by Spanish Courts, which have brought several indictments against him. This is a man who learned how to oppress the lowly at the School of the Americas. Wasn't Ronald Reagan prescient when he said of Rios Montt in 1982: "President Rios-Montt is a man of great personal integrity and commitment. I know he wants to improve the quality of life for all Guatemalans and to promote social justice." Some of the worst years of the civil war happened under Reagan's watch. And as if we needed any further proof that Rios Montt still has ties to US conservatives, his daughter, Zury, is married to Jerry Weller (R-IL), he of the House of Representatives who was recently called as a witness in the Randy "Duke" Cunningham scandals and is being investigated for shady Central American land deals. Birds of a feather.
It's been awhile!
4 years ago