Otto Peréz Molina was the clear winner in yesterday’s presidential elections, receiving 54% of the popular vote and beating out opponent Manuel Baldizón, who received 46% of the vote. The majority of Molina’s support comes from the capital city, where 66% of votes were in his favor. Alongside the new president-elect, Roxana Baldetti will become the first female vice-president in Guatemala’s history. During a press conference following confirmation of the results, Molina announced the first official members of his cabinet–Mauricio López Bonilla as Interior Minister, Francisco Arredondo as Minister of Health, and Alejandro Sinibaldi as Communications Minister.
The election of the former general marks a dramatic and worrisome political shift in Guatemala, as increasing violence and drug-trafficking has led many citizens to support Perez Molina’s ‘mano dura’ hardline approach to cracking down on crime. Guatemala is facing some of the highest rates of poverty, malnutrition and violence in all of Latin America. The election of Otto Perez Molina points to the increasing level of dissatisfaction and frustration with previous leaders’ failure to control what many view as a downward spiral. Many Guatemalan’s seem to be desperate for results and the ‘iron-fist’ approach of Perez Molina is an appealing and dramatic shift in policy.
However, human rights defenders and organizations–GHRC included–have expressed serious concerns about the incoming president’s involvement in acts of genocide and war crimes during Guatemala’s armed conflict. In alliance with Rights Action and lawyer Jennifer Harbury, GHRC presented a formal allegation letter to the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights denouncing Otto Perez Molina and accusing him of direct involvement in the systematic use of torture and acts of genocide during his military service as a general in the Ixil Triangle from 1982-83 and as Director of Military Intelligence in the early 90’s. A recently published article in the Wall Street Journal provides an extensive profile of the general, including an interactive timeline of his involvement in the armed conflict and the torture, capture and murder of political prisoner Efrain Bámaca.