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Home Facts SOA/WHINSEC Graduates Guatemala Election Marred by Violence
Guatemala Election Marred by Violence PDF Print E-mail
Thursday, 04 October 2007 00:00
In August, the body of a 14-year-old girl was found in the trunk of an abandoned taxi. She had been shot in the head and was discovered with two other bodies. The girl, the daughter of a legislator, had gone missing the day before.

Her father, who was seeking re-election at the polls Sept. 9, said his daughter's murder was politically motivated.

"It was meant to scare me away from politics."

Three days later, a lawyer who was also campaigning was gunned down in his office. His attackers have since been identified as members of a death squad specializing in political assassinations. They face neither arrest nor prosecution.

Since Guatemala's election campaign began in May, 45 people have been murdered, among them social activists, labor organizers, journalists and candidates for various political offices. The death toll far exceeds the 30 murders committed during the 2003 elections.

According to watchdog group Mirador Electoral, this is the most violent election campaign since Guatemala's first post-conflict "reconciliation" elections in 1985.

Nicknamed the "Civic Celebration," last month's elections were neither civil nor celebratory. The fierce first round eliminated 12 of the 14 presidential contenders. With no party garnering enough votes, a second round is slated for early November.

In this the most corrupt and violent nation in Central America, no one really had much hope in the emergence of a new Guatemala. Polls had shown that the three or four parties that speak to that nation's deep and protracted socio-economic problems fared poorly.

Perhaps no one was surprised that the two factions that spent the most money, plastered the most banners and posters, bought the most TV and newspaper ads, and were aligned with the wealthy elite, earned most votes.

According to the Guatemala-based Central American Institute of Political Studies, the current rash of violence is attributable not only to political rivalries or internal power struggles but to drug cartels trying to infiltrate ruling parties.

A journalist who spoke on condition of anonymity told me that "powerful narco-traffickers are trying to worm their way into the most successful parties, particularly at the local level, in order to continue to operate under the cloak of immunity from the new regime."

An Interpol agent confirmed the journalist's allegations but declined to elaborate.

In mid-campaign, sitting president, Oscar Berger, a former Guatemala City mayor and a man known to have consorted with Guatemala's most notorious human rights violators, accused unnamed parties of hiring thugs to benefit their party. Berger may have been referring to presidential candidate, retired Col. Otto Perez Molina.

A graduate of the infamous U.S. Army School of the Americas and a former director of military intelligence, Molina, who was on the CIA's payroll, was implicated in the assassination of a judge in 1994. Guilty of some of the worst abuses during the "dirty war" of the '80s, Molina's wartime record was never raised during the campaign. Efrain Rios-Montt, a former de facto president and army general, retained his congressional seat.

Rios-Montt's U.S.-backed military regime was marked by widespread massacres, rape, torture and genocide against the indigenous population. He is best known outside Guatemala for committing some of the worst atrocities of Guatemala's 36-year civil war - a somber distinction that did not prevent Ronald Reagan from showering him with praise: "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."

The elections also yielded disappointing results for Nobel Peace Laureate, Rigoberta Menchu - and for her people. The spunky Maya indigenous leader received only 3 percent of the vote.

In 1999 she filed a complaint before a court in Spain because provisions of the peace accords and the "spirit of reconciliation" prevent crimes committed during the civil war in Guatemala from being prosecuted.

In 2006, Spain called for the extradition of seven former members of Guatemala's government on charges of genocide and torture - including Rios-Montt. Spain's highest court ruled that cases of genocide committed abroad could be judged in Spain, even if no Spanish citizens were involved. In addition to the deaths of Spanish citizens, the most serious charges include genocide against the Mayan people of Guatemala.

It is not known at this date whether Menchu will forego her political ambitions. Her running mate, vice-presidential candidate Luis Fernando Montenegro, believes that Guatemala is not ready to be governed by an indigenous woman, and that sexist and racist stereotypes still prevail. "The country refuses to change," he said.

When Menchu announced her candidacy, many believed she would garner widespread support from indigenous and campesino organizations. That was not to be. Her left-center position, observers remarked, was simply too vague and did not reflect the presence of a homogeneous indigenous movement.

"People's interests are more personal than ethnic," a commentator quipped.

It is the absence of a strong, unified indigenous pressure group, in this writer's opinion, that has helped maintain dynasties of inept and thuggish chiefs of state in this the most corrupt and repressive nation in Central America.

More violence is sure to precede the November runoff elections.

Willy E. Gutman is a veteran journalist and a resident of Tehachapi. His column reflects his own views, not necessarily those of The Signal.
Last Updated on Friday, 05 October 2007 12:41

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