To The Future In
The Guatemalan Elections
By Cyril Mychalejko
14 September, 2007
last time Guatemala was a functioning democracy was during Jacobo Arbenz
Guzmán's administration, which ended prematurely as a result
of a CIA orchestrated coup in June of 1954. In the decades that followed
the country suffered under military dictatorships, death squads, genocide
and a 36-year civil war that left hundreds of thousands murdered, tortured
On Dec. 29, 1996, peace accords
were signed which ended the fighting formally. But since then not much
has changed as institutional racism, military and police abuses, criminal
violence, poverty and impunity continue to plague the suffering Central
Last May, UN
High Commissioner for Human Rights Louise Arbour called
out the Guatemalan government for ongoing threats and violence directed
at human rights workers, the government's meager investment in social
services (the lowest in the region), the continued discrimination and
marginalization of indigenous peoples, and the continued rise of homicides.
Guatemala has the highest
murder rate in all of Latin America
Amnesty International reports
groups" comprised of members of "the business
sector, private security companies, common criminals, gang members and
possibly ex and current members of the armed forces," are responsible
for the violence and threats targeted at human rights activists.
Outgoing President Oscar
Berger, a former businessman and wealthy landowner, has violently
displaced indigenous farmers through evictions marked by
house burnings and demolitions. He even unleashed the military on indigenous
protestors who opposed a controversial
World Bank mining project run by Canada 's Goldcorp Inc.
(formerly Glamis Gold). Both actions are interpreted as violations of
the 1996 Peace Accords.
The September 9, 2007 presidential
election to replace Berger sadly featured more body bags than tangible
ideas to improve the country. The pre-election violence left over 50
candidates (or their family members) and political activists murdered.
"There are ambushes
with automatic weapons, explosives, killing of entire groups at once,"
Francisco Garcia, and election monitor, told
Reuters in July. "It shows there are mafia groups
interested in gaining state power."
It is widely believed drug
traffickers are responsible for the violence and that they bankrolled
candidates from the local to national level.
What voters are left with
for the Nov. 4 runoff is the tired choice between a military strongman
and an oligarch, representing two segments of the population largely
responsible for the continued destruction of the country.
Former businessman Alvaro
Colom and ex-general Otto Pérez Molina came out on top with 28
percent and 24 percent of the vote respectively. Former Nobel Peace
Prize winner and indigenous activist Rigoberta Menchu finished a disappointing,
but not unexpected, sixth place with just 3 percent of the vote. Her
candidacy was doomed from the beginning because unlike in Bolivia, there
are very little social movements in Guatemala.
Pérez Molina has quite
a resume. The ex-general is a School
of the Americas graduate and was the former Chief of G-2,
Guatemala's feared military intelligence unit. The self-proclaimed "general
of peace" (he was involved in the signing of the 1996 Peace Accords)
was also formerly on the
Molina's campaign symbol
is a fist, or "strong hand." He wants to get tough with the
"thugs" and drug gangs largely blamed for Guatemala's increased
violence and crime rates. Remarkably, he even told Reuters that he wanted
the military to police the streets.
"Until we can get out
of this security crisis and strengthen the police, we have to use the
army," said Pérez Molina.
According to Reuters, a UN
report revealed that soldiers under Pérez Molina's command in
the 1980's were responsible for massacres in the Western Province of
El Quiche. It has also been alleged that he was involved in the assassination
of a judge in 1994.
The other choice for Guatemalans
is two-time presidential candidate Alvaro Colom, who in the past has
referred to himself as "the godfather of the factories." Colom
has adopted softer rhetoric than his counterpart, instead promising
to attack crime and violence through education, healthcare and social
spending. Between the two, he may seem the more attractive. But, he
will represent the "self-interested dominant sectors
in Guatemalan politics" and "the old oligarchic business elites
backed by international capital," much like Berger. According to
Carter Center , Colom received illegal campaign contributions
in the 2003 election, while he also refused, not surprisingly, to be
financially transparent within his campaign.
In the end, Guatemalans will
have to battle against the "invisible foot" of the market
crushing down on them or the "iron fist" of the military—or
maybe both. Meanwhile, what we can hope for is local level organizing
to continue and eventually blossom into large scale social movements.
It may be Guatemala's only hope to break out of the cycle of racism,
violence and impunity perpetuated by the state and the international
is an editor at UpsideDownWorld.org. This article was originally published
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