Guatemala’s Presidential Race Headed to Runoff; Comedian Jimmy Morales Leads the Vote

Residents vote at a center in Guatemala City. Photo: Dania Rodríguez

Residents vote at a center in Guatemala City. Photo: Dania Rodríguez

Just days after former President Otto Pérez Molina resigned and was subsequently sent to prison, Guatemalans were faced with the next chapter in an ongoing political saga: the opportunity to elect a new leader.

When polls closed on September 6, votes had been cast not only for the new president and vice president — who will take office in January 2016 — but also for members of congress and the Central American Parliament, as well as for municipal leaders throughout the country.

FCN candidate Jimmy Morales — a comedian with no political experience, but who has marketed himself as a “new option” — led the presidential race alongside Manuel Baldizón (LIDER) and Sandra Torres (UNE). However, since no candidate secured the required 50% of the vote needed to win, a runoff election will take place in October between the two top candidates. [Read more about the leading candidates here].  Continue reading

Weekly News Round-Up

National News

  • Presidential candidates Manuel Baldizón (Lider) and Otto Perez Molina (PP) will officially close their political campaigns today in preparation for Sunday’s final election.  The Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) also held its final meeting yesterday and will finish distributing voting materials by the end of the day.  According to a public poll, OPM is the clear leader, 17 points ahead of Baldizón.
  • While the PP and Líder parties both agree that security will be a top priority if elected, they disagree on how to go about tackling the issue and neither has proposed clear explanations of their plans or where they will get the funding to implement their vague goals.  Proposals in the form of sweeping generalizations seem to be the trend, with Siglo21 also reporting on a lack of substance in both candidates’ social programs initiatives.
  • According to elPeriodico, the incoming president must be prepared to face a nation in dire economic conditions, with the lowest tax revenue on the continent, high rates of unemployment, poorly maintained highways, and a floating debt.  Tax revenue in Guatemala represents only 10.8 percent of Gross National Product (GDP) and an increasing majority of the economically active population is part of the informal labor sector, avoiding tax payments to the state.
  • On Tuesday, two men identified as the president and vice president of the illegal paramilitary force in Panajachel, Sololá were detained by the Civil National Police and the Public Prosecutor’s Office.  The paramilitary group of “hooded men” in Panajanchel on the shores of Lake Atitlan is responsible for dozens of beatings, illegal detentions, torture, three lynchings and forced disappearances over the past several months.  One of the men detained, Juan Manuel Ralón Solórzano, recently participated in the September elections for mayor as a candidate for the National Advance Party (PAN) and has been accused of using money from narco-trafficking to fund his campaign, as confirmed by a U.S. Embassy Wikileaks cable– 09GUATEMALA1025.  In connection with the case, Guatemalan journalist Lucia Escobar of elPeriodico was threatened after publishing a story linking the members of the local paramilitary force to the disappearance of a resident.  She has since fled the western city of Panajachel.

International News

  • According to Bloomberg, Perez Molina is leading the polls by 10 percentage points and will very likely win the election on Sunday, with more than 80% of the population supporting a hard-line stance on organized crime and drug-related violence.  The article analyzes the potential threat of bringing the military back into the forefront of Guatemalan politics, citing the armed conflict and OPM’s sketchy background as powerful warning signs.
  • According to data from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the U.S. has seen a record 400,000 deportations this year, partly due to a 42% increase in felony persecutions for immigration crimes, with Hispanics now the majority group being sent to federal prison.  The Obama administration has been cracking down on ‘criminal aliens,’ further contributing to a climate of fear among the immigrant population in the U.S. and raising concerns about increased poverty among Hispanics, high unemployment, and poor academic performance.  The crackdown could also be contributing to the increasingly negative discourse used to talk about immigrants and Latinos living in the U.S.
  • After almost a week of medical tests Guatemalan medical experts declared that former dictator Oscar Mejia Victores is too sick to stand trial for genocide and war crimes.  Mejia was captured and accused on October 10th for war crimes and genocide for the massacres of indigenous communities recorded during the armed conflict between 1982 and 1984.  His defense attorney now pleads Mejia is unable to face a criminal trial and the case must be discontinued and closed.