Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guatemala's Presidential Election

Alex Renderos has a story at the Los Angeles Times entitled Guatemala presidential election campaign heats up. It obviously gives a bit of an overview as to what is happening just over one month before this year’s elections. Sorry, I'm not a big fan to today's article and it starts with the first paragraph.
Plagued by Mexican drug cartels that have steadily eroded the authority of the national government, Guatemala faces a presidential election in a few weeks that pits a former military officer against a former first lady, but offers little solution to epic problems.
The national government's authority was limited prior to the arrival of the Mexican cartels. Guatemalan organized crime was responsible for eroding the state's authority and the Mexican cartels are just a new competitor. It also doesn't make sense to talk about an electoral battle between the former military officer Otto Perez Molina and former first lady Sandra Torres. With one month before the election, there's no indication that she'll be on the ballot. As Renderos makes clear later in the article, Torres continues to campaign even though the electoral authorities and courts have rejected her candidacy.

Then there's the problem of electoral violence. 
The campaign for the Sept. 11 elections, which include congressional and mayoral posts, has been violent and tense.
More than 30 people have been killed in campaign violence, according to the human rights ombudsman office. 
It's possible that the general level of violence surrounding this year's election is worse than previous ones, but I can't really say that I'm convinced. Granted I'm just reading the news and not actually in Guatemala right now. Given that over 50 people related to the various campaigns were killed in 2007, the number of deaths from this year's election looks like it will come in lower. 
Then there's the fact that June saw the lowest number of homicides in six years and the 2011 murder rate is on pace to be the same or better than last year's which was better from the previous year. None of that indicates that the violence surrounding this year's election is worse this year. That's not to say that Guatemalans perceive this year's election as more violent given the high profile murder of Cabral and the mayoral candidates of San Jose Pinula. 
I was also worried about that statement that sicarios on motorcycles are shooting people for no reason. Guatemala passed a law that tried to reduce the number of murders carried out in this manner by legislating against two people riding on a motorcycle (a driver and shooter). Has this not been effective? The higher profile killings that have made the news (former UNE congressman shot and killed and Cabral's murder) have involved SUVs with tinted windows and not motorcycles from what I remember reading. Is this another issue of perception versus reality?
I don't want to make it come across as the electoral campaign hasn't been violent or that people are not getting killed by hit men. It's just that while the perception of insecurity has increased which is very real, objective measures don't capture it.   
Finally, a minor point. Renderos also mentions a thirty-five year civil war. It's difficult to pinpoint the start of the country's civil war. Did it begin with the overthrow of the Arbenz government in 1954? The November 1960 military uprising? The creation of the first guerrilla forces in 1962? Typically, we talk about a 36-year conflict (60-96), but 34 is probably more accurate (62-96). I just haven't seen it referred to as 35 before.


  1. One thing that I can tell you, having lived in Guatemala City for the past two years, is that it is still very common to see two (or more) people riding on a motorcycle, regardless of what the law might dictate.

  2. I didn't think that the practice had ended outright, but am I right in not hearing as many executions carried out via motorcycle anymore?