Earlier in the week I gave my thoughts on some of the potential accomplishments that President Alvaro Colom will leave when he hands the reins of powers to President-elect Otto Perez Molina. See my posts here and here from earlier in the week. You also might want to check out Rachel Glickhouse and Carin Zissis’s Guatemala Election Update: The Roadahead for Pérez Molina from today where they say much the same, only more eloquently.
I argued that there has been some progress in terms of reducing the murder rate. There are what appear to be two very competent people in Attorney General Claudia Paz y Paz and Police Reform Commissioner Helen Mack. There has been some success in overcoming impunity with the successful prosecutions of individuals who perpetrated wartime atrocities and a recognition for past crimes committed in the name of the government.
The government has been less successful in prosecuting former officials for corruption and extrajudicial killings. On the positive side, those people seem no longer to be in government. Finally, CICIG has not been perfect but it does seem to have done a good job of removing some corrupt officials, helping to crack high profile cases, and begun training Guatemala's next generation of prosecutors and justice system employees.
However, I said nothing about what President-elect Perez plans to do with his "inheritance." And that's where we should be worried.
President Perez has promised to bring mano dura with him into the presidency. Given the high level of support for mano dura in Guatemala today, Perez is probably going to have his way here. If he just intends to add more police and to deploy some kaibiles and other military to remote areas of the country, the effects probably won't be bad and might even do some good. However, if his idea of mano dura is to send troops into the cities, criminalize tattoos and looking like a gang member, lengthening prison terms for nonviolent and youthful offenders, etc. then I do worry what the future holds. These policies have not worked out so well in neighboring countries.
The question as to how he is going to pay for the new police and other policies is another matter. He wants to cut down on contraband. That's fine and might even help shrink the deficit. However, it's not going to replace fiscal reform. If he shows some progress in curtailing contraband, perhaps the elites will voluntarily agree to raise the amount that they pay in taxes? Yeah, I don't think so either.
As president, Perez does not have to keep Paz y Paz or Mack. Given that he doesn't believe that the military committed genocide in the early 1980s or military officers should be tried for civil war era crimes, it's easy to understand why he might want to get right of Paz y Paz and/or Mack. It's not even clear that either of them would want to be associated with the administration of the former general anyway. The question then becomes whether Perez replaces Paz y Paz with a serious, well-respected AG who only goes after today's crimes (not civil war era crimes) or does he appoint someone who isn't concerned with actually developing the rule of law in Guatemala.
Perez, like some other Guatemalans, have been critical of CICIG and might want it to leave when its terms ends in 2013 or perhaps just have its mandate more focused. Either change probably would not help the people of Guatemala. I still don't know what to expect from a CICIG-Perez partnership. Wasn't CICIG sent to Guatemala to investigate someone like Perez? And Baldizon who is trying to position himself as the 2015 favorite? Would it help if CICIG came out and said that we have looked into allegations of serious wrongdoing by the President-elect and have found no evidence to substantiate the bringing of any charges against him? Then they could move on in peace.
Anyway, the point is that Perez has probably been dealt a better hand than Colom. It still might not be a winning hand and it’ll take some time to better understand how he intends to play his cards. I’m not optimistic. Like many, I wasn’t impressed by the two finalists and I wasn’t going to be optimistic about a presidency led by either man. I pray that I will be proven wrong, however.
In other news,Mica Rosenberg and Mike McDonald also have a very good article on Special Report: New Guatemala leader faces questions about past and Ezra Fieser tries to figure out what the Roman Catholic Church expects from the new president in Church officials not sure what to expect from new Guatemalan president.