Guatemala has once again reached a crossroads in its history. On September 11th, despite violence and accusations of corruption, Guatemalans flooded to the polls in record numbers. The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) finalized the election results on September 27th, and local election results are in, though the TSE has called for repeat elections in five municipalities due to irregularities. Two presidential candidates emerged from the pool of 10 candidates, and will compete in a runoff election.
What does this mean for human rights and rule of law? The Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA brings you news and analysis:
Presidential hopefuls Otto Pérez Molina, who received 36% of the vote, and Manuel Baldizón, with 23.5%, will compete in a runoff election on November 6th. Both candidates have promised to crack-down on crime to stem the rising violence that has plagued the country. However, both men have also faced allegations against them of involvement in human rights abuses and organized crime.
Otto Pérez Molina
Born in Guatemala City in 1950, Otto Pérez Molina was heavily involved in Guatemala's military during the internal conflict. He is a graduate of Guatemala's National Military Academy, the U.S. run School of the Americas and the Inter-American Defense College. Molina was the general in charge of the Ixil triangle from 1982-83, a time when the government's "scorched earth" policy has been characterized as genocide and between 80-90% of the villages in the area were completely destroyed and the inhabitants were massacred.
In addition, a decade later, Molina was National Director of Military Intelligence at a time when the government systematically tortured and executed captured prisoners, including Efrain Bámaca, a guerilla commander and husband of American lawyer Jennifer Harbury.
To learn more about these allegations, see GHRC's letter to the UN.
Pérez retired from active military duty in 2000 and in 2001 he founded the Patriot Party. He was elected to Congress in 2003 and ran for President in 2007. Pérez’s campaign slogan is “Mano Dura” or firm hand. He has focused his campaign on promises to crack down on crime through tactics such as extending prison sentences, hiring 10,000 additional police, expanding video surveillance and lowering the age of criminal responsibility. Molina has admitted to ties to the Mendoza family, allegedly one of the largest narco-trafficking clans in Guatemala.
Born in 1970, in the Petén region of Guatemala, Manuel Baldizón was first elected to Congress as a representative of the National Advancement Party (PAN) in 2003. After switching to the National Unity of Hope (UNE) party he was re-elected to Congress in 2007. He was nominated President of the Congressional Finance Committee the same year. According to economists, bureaucrats, and former officers of the same position, Baldizón governed with complete disregard for official proceedings, delegating power to a group of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), some of which had financial ties to Baldizón.
The following year, Baldizón changed parties again. He was fired from the Finance Committee in December of 2008, at which time he formed the LIDER party, offering representatives $61,000 each if they defected with him.
According to an investigation published by InSight Crime, Baldizón may have connections to narco-trafficking groups and large petroleum extraction companies. Furthermore, the Human Rights Attorney’s Office has accused the candidate of illegal land appropriation near the Petén Itza Lake through an NGO directly linked to Baldizón. A group of students from the University of San Carlos in Petén tried to protest the illegal saleafter construction of the Maya International Mall began. The students were detained amid suspicions that Baldizón used his connections with local authorities to have the students arrested.
Baldizón has described himself as a ‘multi-millionaire, populist, devout Christian, and proponent of the death penalty.’ Baldizón has known business ties to media sources throughout Guatemala and is the owner of Telesky, the biggest cable company in Petén. Throughout his presidential campaign, Baldizón has emphasized plans to legalize the death penalty in Guatemala and impose a flat tax on the entire population of just 5%, which would be the most regressive tax code in the world.
Since the election, many of the losing parties as well as various interest groups have lined up behind either Baldizón or Peréz Molina. Supporting Baldizón is the ruling alliance UNE-GANA, as well as National Union for Change (UCN) and the National Advancement Party (PAN). The former members of the Civil Defense Patrols, which number approximately 500,000, have endorsed Baldizón as well, as he's promised them payments for their service during the internal conflict.
With Peréz Molina are National Development Action (ADN) and Vision with Values (VIVA). However, VIVA's coalition partner, the left-leaning Encounter for Guatemala (EG), has declined to support either candidate, as have the Broad Coalition of the Left (whose presidential candidate was Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchu) and Dr. Eduardo Suger, the presidential candidate from Promise, Renovation and Order (CREO), who came in third in the first round of voting.
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Though the months leading up to the elections were marred by election-related violence including at least 36 election related murders, election day itself saw less violence than in 2007. However, d isturbances were reported in the municipality of Pueblo Nuevo Viñas, Santa Rosa on the night of the election. A group of armed men broke into various education centers and burned electoral ballot boxes, leaving several wounded. Incidents were also reported in Magdalena Milpas Altas in Sacatepequez; San José, Petén, and Tiquisate, Escuintla. Preliminary reports show that the attacks in Santa Rosa were connected to the losing mayoral candidate from the UNE-GANA coalition, Julio Muñoz.
Civic celebrations were disrupted in some electoral districts where ballots were burned and voting centers were closed. The major incidents occurred in Xejup, Nahualá, Sololá where 123 ballots were burned.
Thousands of Guatemalans and foreigners observed the elections. There were many irregularities reported by electoral observers including intimidation and the buying of votes. In addition, observers from the Organization of American States criticized the TSE for their slow transmission of election results.
Furthermore, all of the information disseminated about Sunday’s election in Guatemala was published only in Spanish, making it difficult for indigenous populations to participate in the election. Confusion was common in three voting centers in San Jose Poaquil, Chimaltenango, where 95% of the population is kaqchikel, though there were student volunteers present to facilitate the process.
According to the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, both candidates spent more than the official limit of Q48.5 million ($6,194,000) on their campaigns. The Tribunal calculates that Peréz Molina spent Q75.3 million ($9,616,000) and Baldizón spent Q53.6 million ($6,845,000). Thus, they are both technically barred from campaigning during the second round.
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