Some pointers to understanding the “Guatemalan Spring”
Since April we’ve been seeing unprecedented events unfold in Guatemala.
This combination of surprising, novel and historical moments
has been dubbed by many the “Guatemalan Spring.”
Here are some of many pointers, some even contradictory,
to understanding what has happened and may still happen.,
Juan Hernández Pico, SJ
Many analysts have interpreted Guatemala’s political crisis in recent months as the end of the project established in 1954 with the overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz. It’s a very plausible theory, but one that can only be corroborated by future events. For the moment, there are concerns about having Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre in the presidency, even if only on an interim basis, since as a young man he participated in that overthrow and hasn’t changed his stripes.
the 1954 crisis and today’s
While the current context is very different from that of 1954, at least one thing unites them: US interests. When the Arbenz government used its 1952 agrarian reform to expropriate lands from both the large landowners and the US banana company United Fruit, the giant became enraged and dealt it a mortal blow. President Truman had already authorized an operation to topple Árbenz in 1952 with the support of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza García, but it had been aborted when too many details became public. By 1954, President Eisenhower’s secretary of state and his CIA director, respectively John Foster Dulles and his brother Allen, who had been United Fruit’s lawyers before their government appointments, persuaded Eisenhower that a “communist” government couldn’t be allowed to exist in their “backyard.”
US Ambassador John E. Peurifoy was already working overtly and covertly to support the interests of the Guatemalan landowning oligarchy and the US banana company. On June 18 of that year, two CIA planes flew over Guatemala City, dropping bombs and terrorizing people. Guatemala’s Colonel Castillo Armas led a contingent of nearly 500 exiles living in Honduras, earlier armed and trained, albeit poorly, by Somoza, back into Guatemala in an assault on the government. Most of the Guatemalan Army’s senior officers stayed in their barracks, intimidated, thus betraying President Arbenz’s legitimate government. Arbenz went into exile nine days later and two weeks after that Castillo Armas took office as President, the first of 60 years of authoritarian governments.
Sixty years of authoritarianism
The overthrow of the Arbenz government ushered in an oligarchic-military society that had been taught in the School of the Americas in Panama and Fort Benning how to prevail via coups and fraudulent elections, running roughshod over even the most basic human rights. They did not hesitate to use forced disappearances, prison, torture, scorched earth policies and even genocide to tackle any outbreak of rebellion or demand for social justice.
The 1996 Peace Accords that ended 36 years of intermittent civil rebellion and armed revolution, leaving more than 200,000 victims, seem to us more like a modern National Plan. They were signed during the administration of Álvaro Arzú (1996-2000), one of the signatories, then promptly undermined. The most recent government, with retired General Otto Pérez Molina as President, has worked quite brazenly together with Antonio Arenales in the Peace Secretariat to utterly undo them.
The challenge to the military
and the business elite
General Carlos Arana Osorio, who became President in 1970, led the bloody campaign that defeated the first guerrilla movement, the Rebel Armed Forces (FAR). He ruled by declaring frequent states of siege and exception and by ordering the strategic assassination of democratic leaders. His minister of government, Roberto Herrera Ibargüen, belonged to a prominent land-owning family tied to the sugar industry and was a member of the National Liberation Movement (MLN), called the “party of organized violence” by its founder Mario Sandoval Alarcón. Today’s interim President Alejandro Maldonado also belongs to this party.
Arana was supported by the oligarchy but also challenged it. In 1971 he founded the Bank of the Army in order to have an autonomous source of financing and to consolidate a corporation, the Military Pension Institute (IPM), to give lifelong insurance to the military. He also tried to force his way into the Novello family’s cement business (Cementos Progreso) but was refused access, even though a daughter from this family was kidnapped as leverage. When the cement-making family refused to budge, the girl was released. This defused Arana’s ambition, so he redirected his energies to opening up the northern transversal highway and occupying vast estates in what are also oil-yielding regions along the highway in both Alta Verapaz and Petén, which ended up in military hands.
Once out of office, Arana founded the Authentic Nationalist Center party (CAN) to represent military interests, sometimes allying with the MLN and other times competing with it for far-right votes. It was at that time that the military’s economic and political challenges to the oligarchy were first established.
The emerging powers
The Army’s economic challenge to the oligarchy was accompanied both before and since then by that of the emerging economic groups established in Congress and in many municipalities through their representatives or proxies.
The oligarchy’s power began to be challenged by businessmen in the service industry and in smuggling and politicians from ephemeral parties who take turns in public posts in the three branches of government and use ill-gotten public money as bribes to push through certain laws. Equally corrupt members of the lawyers’ guild, business people trafficking in illegal drugs, weapons, persons, etc. have also been challenging the traditional oligarchy’s power, laundering money and taking advantage of the greed of Guatemala’s bankers. Together they make up a new emerging elite.
The river of migrants
A fast-flowing river of migrants from Honduras and El Salvador also flows through Guatemala, swollen daily by those fleeing Guatemala itself, and all seeking a different life from that offered in these three countries.
The emigrants’ remittances, equivalent to an important part of the government’s budget, help improve the lot of poor indigenous and mestizo Guatemalans and have also been creating a middle class that’s autonomous from the oligarchy.
The oligarchy confronts
a two-faced State
The oligarchy is used to winning. The State has always defended its businesses with its military forces and has supported it fiscally, with a tax burden of only 8-10% of the GDP, the lowest on the continent. It’s never come even close to 12%, the goal agreed on in the Peace Accords.
The State, now in the hands of the emerging groups, has increasingly become a two-faced entity for the oligarchy. While it’s permissive with tax exemptions, it’s also a competitor as a corrupt and autonomous magnet attracting organized crime to set up in the country and compete with the oligarchy.
The role of CACIF
The oligarchy has seen a huge window of opportunity in this governmental crisis. If the corruption scandals in customs administration, Social Security, the Ministry of Government and of Health, among others, are overwhelming the political parties in which many competing emerging elites are taking shelter, the oligarchy can raise the banner of having honest economic practices that employ the working class. Above all, it can maintain dignified amnesia about its irresponsibility in not paying taxes commensurate to its huge profits, which if paid would bolster the government’s public investment capacity and help create a new, honest and effective State. During the current crisis, the oligarchy’s business umbrella, the Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF), has tried to hitch a ride on the bandwagon of the chiefly urban public demonstrations—particularly in Guatemala City—while the club leading this oligarchy, mostly through the Foundation for the Development of Guatemala (FUNDESA), has preferred to keep a low profile and is open to new members, showing creative imagination and seeming love for the Guatemalan people.
It’s here that similarities arise between Guatemala’s situation in 1954 and today with respect to US interests. The US has designated the Guatemala-Mexico border as its southern frontier and wants to implement a policy that will stop the flow of non-Mexican migrants and drug-trafficking. The poor and violent countries south of Mexico don’t endorse this policy because their emerging entrepreneurial mafias, corrupt governments and traditional business leaders, accustomed to very low taxes and to laundering money in their financial centers, have no interest in a more egalitarian country.
The United States can take aim at the heart of the drug-trafficking mafias, as it seems to have done in the Miami trial of the Guatemalan “Queen of the South” and the Honduran government’s pacts with the DEA and Honduran drug-lord mafias, but it can’t secure the borders against the migrant masses without relatively honest governments and more prosperous societies. That brings us to the US “Alliance for Prosperity” initiative, but sending US$1 billion every year for five years to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador requires ensuring that it isn’t being sent into a corrupt and bottomless pit.
Ambassador Todd Robinson’s role
That need led to the sending to Guatemala of Todd Robinson exactly a year ago. Robinson is an atypical US ambassador: a small, Afro-American career diplomat with several overseas postings as well as having been deputy assistant secretary of the DEA.
According to well-informed analytical observers, he read the oligarchical club the riot act, telling them the time has come for them to pay reasonable taxes and invest in Guatemala because a country can’t be built with the extreme inequality currently existing in Guatemala. At the same time he has strongly supported the work of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which the Óscar Berger government asked the United Nations to establish in 2007. Guatemala’s Congress vetoed Berger’s request at first but when Vice President Eduardo Stein referred to the Congress as a nest of toadies, then-presidential candidate Álvaro Colom got the legislative bench of his National Unity of Hope party (UNE) to reverse the veto and CICIG’s arrival in Guatemala was eventually approved.
The CICIG factor
Since 2008, CICIG has had a succession of three commissioners: Spanish judge Carlos Castresana (2008-2010), Costa Rican judge Francisco Dall’Anese (2010-2013) and Colombian justice Iván Velásquez, (2013 to date). Castresana resigned after he was ostracized in the country for speaking very critically about the Guatemalan authorities.
An investigative commission only, CICIG can’t prosecute any individual or structure without cooperation from the Public Prosecutor General’s Office, otherwise known as the Public Ministry, whose board is appointed by Guatemala’s President. Prosecutor General Claudia Paz y Paz (2010-2014), the first woman to head this office in Guatemala, did a surprisingly effective and independent job for both President Colom and his successor Otto Pérez Molina, but received very little support from CICIG Commissioner Dall’Anese.
Her four-year term of office was effectively cut to three-and-a-half years by the Constitutional Court, which ruled that her term started not when she entered office but the date her predecessor had been fired. In her attempt to run for reelection, Claudia Paz y Paz was removed from the shortlist of final candidates by underhanded dealings in the nominating commissions, despite her outstanding service record.
It’s said that she was removed to spare President Pérez Molina from having to explain why he didn’t choose her despite her merits.
Instead he appointed lawyer Thelma Aldana, who has a Masters in Criminal Procedural Law and was chosen by Congress to sit on the Supreme Court in 2010. The President expected her to protect his interests but she surprised everyone by agreeing to cooperate with the CICIG investigations. It immediately became apparent that she was staying in office and supporting the prosecutors responsible for her ministry’s most delicate departments.
Everything indicates that Iván Velásquez in the CICIG and Thelma Aldana in the Public Ministry have worked well together as a team. Time and time again, Ambassador Robinson has shown full support for both of them and their respective institutions. It must also be stated that the US government is one of the main financial sources to the UN for CICIG’s work in Guatemala.
The April 16 La Línea fraud
On April 16 CICIG released the results of investigations uncovering massive customs fraud by an organization known as La Línea (The Line), allegedly involving retired Captain Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, who was Vice President Roxana Baldetti’s personal secretary, and soon afterwards Baldetti herself.
Ambassador Robinson wasted no time before publicly expressing his opinion: the Supreme Court should initiate the process to recommend the removal of Baldetti’s immunity. Although Congress had chosen all the Supreme Court justices in clear collusion between representatives of the governing Patriot Party (PP) and presidential candidate Manuel Baldizón’s LIDER party—the justices decided that there was merit to stripping her immunity and reported this to Congress. It in turn appointed an investigatory commission that ruled there was indeed merit.
Once deprived of her immunity, the Vice President was deposed from office and turned over to the Justice Department. On September 3, Baldetti was confined in an administrative area of the Santa Teresa women’s prison.
Changing electoral and party laws:
National Congress turns a deaf ear
Ambassador Robinson even paid a visit to the Congress building to urge several of its members from different parties to speed up work on the new electoral and political party bill the Supreme Electoral Tribunal had sent them three months earlier. The draft establishes various important changes, among them control over the parties’ finances, preferably with government funds; prohibiting sitting representatives from switching from the party on whose ticket they were elected to another party’s bench; limiting representatives to one reelection; giving a null vote the same value as a valid vote so that with a given number of null or blank votes an election is invalidated…
Congress, controlled by representatives from Pérez Molina’s Patriot Party and Baldizón’s LIDER party, co-opted the bill’s process without having to approve it, ignoring the demonstrators’ demand that it be passed in time to be in force for the September 6 elections. Nor did it listen to their demand that the Constitutional Court declare the holding of those elections illegal for two reasons: 1) various parties were illegally allowed to make propaganda before the official opening of the campaign and 2) several parties also exceeded the funding permitted based on their results in previous elections.
Congress naturally resisted all this pressure because many of its members’ own “career” was at stake. More than 120 of Congress’ 158 members were up for reelection so accepting the elections’ invalidity would have put a noose around their own necks. But they have worse problems than that. Many of them are now being linked to acts of corruption and without parliamentary immunity they could end up in court and in prison.
Ambassador Robinson’s clout couldn’t bring down Congress’ ramparts and the US government didn’t consider it possible or necessary to override the State’s legal system. After Baldetti’s indictment, the ambassador’s own priority seems to have been to demand Pérez Molina’s as well but important analyses suggest that the State Department feared the unleashing of uncontrollable events so Robinson followed the lead of his superiors in Washington.
Who is Alejandro Maldonado?
When the crisis was still in its initial stages, the Congress discarded all three names on the shortlist submitted by the President to replace Baldetti. It instead chose Alejandro Maldonado, a 79-year-old dyed-in-the-wool conservative, not to say reactionary.
Let’s recall some fundamental milestones in his life. At 18 years old he was involved in the 1954 overthrow of the Democratic-Revolutionary Decade as a member of the recently created MLN. In 1970 he was President Arana’s education minister and in 1995 was briefly the foreign affairs minister. Since 2011 he has been a justice in the Constitutional Court where he formed a 3-2 conservative majority that was responsible, inter alia, for annulling Efraín Ríos Montt’s 80-year sentence for genocide.
CICIG signals parties
involved in corruption
On July 17 CICIG released an exhaustive document that laid bare the corrupt modus operandi of the political parties’ financing, not infrequently by organized crime. Nonetheless, most representatives continued to drag their feet in debating the new electoral and political party bill. CICIG responded by requesting a preliminary hearing for four legislative representatives from Pérez Molina’s Patriot Party, all of them departmental chiefs in the party’s organization.
The most significant of those listed in the document, however, was Edgar Barquín, president of the Bank of Guatemala and the Monetary Council (2010-2014) and LIDER’s vice presidential candidate. CICIG also asked for the impeachment of LIDER representatives Manuel Barquín, Edgar’s brother, and for Jaime Martínez Loayza, both accused of laundering at least 937 million quetzals (over US$121 million) to finance political parties.
CICIG presents recordings
On August 25, Iván Velásquez and Thelma Aldana made public wiretapped telephone calls identifying Pérez Molina as the main link in the Línea chain.
In the recordings several people can be heard talking about the “top honcho,” the “owner of the farm,” the “President”… Pérez Molina defended himself by arguing that his name is never mentioned. CICIG’s commissioner, however, released a recorded telephone call between the President and Carlos Muñoz, one of the two directors of the Superintendence of Tax Administration (SAT)—now in prison awaiting trial—in which Pérez Molina insistently asks him to change a certain employee so things could flow more smoothly.
Pérez Molina undermined his own position when he defiantly alleged that they were only talking about those who receive bribes, not those who pay them (passive as opposed to active bribery): “There isn’t one Línea, there are two,” he said in his defense, “and so far only the receiving one has appeared, not the paying one, which is embedded in the business sector.” Did he mean to say that he recognized his involvement and was playing at threatening to reveal the other Línea, the one that bribes customs officials to avoid or reduce taxes on containers with merchandise for private enterprise?
CICIG distances itself
When CICIG Commissioner Velásquez asked the Supreme Court on August 25 to rule whether Congress should form an Investigatory Commission to decide if there should be a floor vote on removing the President’s immunity, Ambassador Robinson, despite having accepted Pérez Molina’s continuance in obedience to the State Department, hastened to urge Congress to act with due dispatch.
The Investigatory Commission was appointed on Thursday 27, made up of two LIDER representatives and two from the Patriot Party plus Nineth Montenegro, leader of Together for Guatemala Party (EG). Montenegro got to Congress early the next day and announced that she wouldn’t leave until the Investigatory Commission was actually convened by its chairman. The Commission unanimously decided to remove the President’s immunity that very same day and on September 1 the 132 representatives present in the legislative session voted in favor of that decision, with 22 LIDER representatives and another 4 absent.
Historical moments, dual ambivalence
That is how Otto Pérez Molina suddenly became a citizen subject to prosecution. Almost immediately Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez issued a restraining order to prevent him from fleeing the country. At the same time, the Constitutional Court unanimously voted to deny the two staying motions pending appeal presented by Pérez Molina’s lawyer. Prosecutor General Aldana assured that in the first hearing she would ask for his imprisonment.
These were unprecedented historical moments. At the same time, however, there’s widespread awareness that the decision was made by a Congress involved in the same corruption as Pérez Molina, with the exception of a very few honest representatives such as Nineth Montenegro. There’s also widespread awareness that the US ambassador. had lobbied for the decision Therein lies the dual ambivalence.
Military in control of customs
It can’t be said that the case against Pérez Molina isn’t plausible. It’s known that colonels have traditionally run customs. It’s also often been said that in the late 1970s senior military commanders organized a structure in the Ministry of Finance for both “intelligence” and enrichment. The names of Generals Callejas and Ortega Menaldo, presumptive directors of the “Brotherhood,” were successively linked to this structure. General Otto Pérez Molina was also involved, although he belonged to a rival group, the “Syndicate,” and directed Military Intelligence (known as G-2 locally and D-2 nationally) from 1991 to 1993.
Former President Jorge Serrano Elías, deposed by the Constitutional Court in 1993 after his version of a Fujimori coup failed and he went into exile with his accomplice, Vice President Espina, declared to the international press that he couldn’t have been deposed without the Army’s intervention and, specifically, without that of Pérez Molina, whom he accuses of having been the intellectual author of an operation to control the customs administration starting way back then.
CACIF, the bishops and 100,000
demonstrators all say Resign!
When the publication of telephone calls implicating Pérez Molina in La Línea increased the number of demonstrators, a national work stoppage was called for August 27. Universities, hundreds of colleges and schools, and many private businesses and companies, including some fast food outlets, joined it.
CACIF asked for the President’s resignation, which had first been requested months earlier in a public letter by Dionisio Gutiérrez, one of Guatemala’s wealthiest entrepreneurs (Multiinversiones S.A.). His remarkable singularity is indicated by his current exclusion from the club that rules the country from the shadows.
During the crisis, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference publicized four communiqués declaring their outrage at the governmental corruption, demanding that what had been stolen from the people and the State be returned, advising the President to listen to the public outcry and asking for his resignation. The Association of Evangelical Communities also published texts with similar demands.
On August 27, about 100,000 people went to Constitution Square and very successful road blockades were organized at crucial points in the country’s road network, leaving cities like Totonicapán empty. At the same time, the social networks posted and exchanged innumerable messages endorsing the resignation petition.
“Tito” goes before the judge
When, on the afternoon of September 2, the Constitutional Court refused to accept the two injunctions introduced by his lawyer, Pérez Molina’s last card had been played. At around 7 pm he signed a letter resigning from the presidency, which his personal representative sent to Congress that same night; Pérez Molina turned himself in to Judge Gálvez.
The next day he appeared before the judge on accusations of criminal conspiracy, passive bribery and customs fraud. The judge ruled he be detained in Guatemala City’s Matamoros prison until his trial. On his arrival at the Palace of Justice, escorted by a special Police corps, he was met by a large group of citizens who expressed their jubilation and repudiation of “Commandante Tito, genocide:” Tito was Pérez Molina’s alias during the armed conflict. This echoed the brief moment in the trial against Ríos Montt two years ago when “Tito” was identified as a participant in the genocide of more than 3,000 Ixil indigenous people while commanding the Kaibiles special operations force in Nebaj.
The demonstration factor
Public demonstrations haven’t ceased since Saturday April 25, when some 30,000 people gathered in Guatemala City’s Constitution Square demanding Vice President Baldetti’s resignation. Once having obtained that, they then went after the President shouting slogans that included: “Justice Now,” “Resign Now,” “Otto, ladrón [thief], go to Pavón” [the maximum security prison], “Otto, I fire you,” “President, criminal”…
Weeks of citizen’s gatherings followed, first in Guatemala City, then in many departmental capitals and later with road blockades organized by different rural and urban groups from inside the country. Without that determined participation by the population, the senior officials accused of corruption would never have been caught.
Already by May 25 some 70,000 people had mobilized and, for the first time in Guatemala, we saw the awakening of college students from universities as different as San Carlos National University, the Jesuit-run Rafael Landívar University and Valley University. They were even joined by the Francisco Marroquín University, founded and funded by the oligarchy. With ups and downs the civic mobilization was maintained for about 20 weeks.
The National Civil Police and other security structures have behaved respectfully towards the public’s anger apart from the filming by police of the first two demonstrations in Constitution Square. At that time the government minister was still Lieutenant Colonel Mauricio López Bonilla, but he had to resign weeks later. While no one has been injured or died in any of the demonstrations, there were both in LIDER demonstrations, when the public, objecting to Baldizón’s arrogant slogan: “Your turn, Guatemala!” replied with shouts of “Not yours, Baldizón!”
A critical analysis is still needed but we can already see that there’s a new generation of young people with renewed and fearless citizen awareness. University students showing their socio-political belligerence on the streets is something we haven’t seen in forty years and the fact that it hasn’t been limited to the public National University, but rin alliances with private universities is unprecedented in this country.
It’s also true that the urban middle class has reacted strongly. The uncovering of governmental criminal operations in the customs administration, and especially in Social Security, aroused an outrage that’s been building for a long time. What was revealed was the incapacity of the system established in 1954 to manage social welfare even for the middle sectors.
It’s also unprecedented for protests to spread to a number of departmental capitals. What’s not new is for rural grassroots movements and organizations to mobilize, as happened in the August 27 national work stoppage. They’ve always done so at crucial moments and have a long history of exercising political pressure, knowing exactly which road junctions to blockade in order to show their strength.
With the weeks of ongoing demonstrations, which began to increase numerically on April 25, people recovered symbols that had lost their potency, such as singing the national anthem and flying the Guatemalan flag. Traditional humor and satire were also recuperated, expressed in songs, placards and theater; transforming laughter into strength for the struggle and turning Saturday afternoons into a new space for political protest and going out as a family.
It’s been powerfully unprecedented to see so many children at these demonstrations with parents who have lost their fear of the repressive forces.
What social mobilization
I offer some important conclusions in a provisional assessment of what has happened in this country since April 16.
It rekindled national attention to and awareness of politics and its importance.
It revalued the experience of collective action, of everyone working together
as a people, restoring public confidence and self-esteem after the darkness of fear caused by so many years of state terrorism and counterinsurgency.
It helped put pressure on the political decisions of power groups that were virtually impermeable for over 30 years.
It helped fulfill public constitutionality’s legal and political obligations, at least in principle, and thus decisively cooperated to oust the elite of a corrupt business-supported military government that was primarily responsible for the institutional disorder of the State and social unviability.
...and what it didn’t
Social mobilization achieved all of this. What it didn’t manage to do was prevent the holding of elections under an electoral system so flawed it’s almost impossible to prevent institutionalized corruption. Not even Ambassador Robinson understood the need for this radical change and, compelled by Washington, he even supported Pérez Molina’s continuation in office. This continuation galvanized CICIG, led by Iván Velásquez, into publishing evidence of Pérez Molina’s guilt in La Línea on August 25, and it did so independently of the US Embassy.
The public’s lack of focus on postponing the elections—although slogans were heard about the uselessness of holding elections at a time like this—is probably linked to the lack of a political project for the immediate future, without which it would be very difficult to make the institutional changes Guatemala needs.
We can’t compare the explosion of discontent and rebellion we saw to a revolution precisely because this protest lacked the political awareness that would jell into a new project. The main hope that has emerged today is that the social mobilization will closely monitor Maldonado’s interim government as well as the new government that emerges from the elections.
The September 6 elections
Something quite unusual happened in the elections on Sunday September 6: 70% of the registered voters turned out. The three possible candidates were comedian Jimmy Morales; Petén entrepreneur Manuel Baldizón, a multimillionaire who belongs to the emerging groups competing with the oligarchy; and Sandra Torres, former President Álvaro Colom’s ex-wife.
Jimmy Morales: With no administrative experience, Jimmy Morales came up out of nowhere. Some analysts suspect he’s a creation of Baldizón since he’s running on the ticket of the National Convergence Front (FCN), a party created by the Guatemala Association of Military Veterans (AVEMILGUA), and has presumably been financed by a sector of the oligarchy that thinks he’ll be easy to handle as he has no project or political team of his own.
Sandra Torres: Torres is running on the National Unity of Hope (UNE) ticket, which defines itself as a Social-Democratic and Social-Christian party. It was also Colom’s party and has a fair number of representatives in Congress. Torres is a very active candidate, a tireless workaholic but with very little ability to project herself sympathetically to the public despite being a woman with social sensitivity. When she was First Lady (2008-2012), her Open Schools weekend program in Guatemala City’s poor neighborhoods was well conceived and well used, with 170,000 enrolled and very few drop-outs. Her programs My Family Progresses and Solidarity Bag, particularly aimed at rural areas and poor urban neighborhoods, were seriously criticized regarding the source of her funding and her tendency to give handouts. While she made a name for herself with those social programs she still hasn’t managed to clear herself of suspicions of shady financing
Manuel Baldizón: Some years ago Baldizón invented his own party, the Renewed Democratic Liberty party (LIDER). He financed it from his enormous personal fortune amassed from family enterprises in Petén, although there’s a lot of suspicion about them and they’re hard to investigate. Baldizón’s voter support was concentrated in rural areas but plummeted with the crisis.
As was expected, there’ll be a runoff round on October 25 between Morales, who pulled 23.85% in the first round, and Torres, who came in second with 19.76%, barely squeaking past Baldizón with his 19.65%. The fact that Baldizón has been eliminated from the second round, despite running nearly 5 points ahead of Torres in a September 3 poll, should be interpreted as a triumph of the social mobilizations.
Vigilance by society is essential
Despite the conciliatory tone in interim President Alejandro Maldonado’s inaugural speech about being open to dialogue and hints about the need for profound governmental change, he hasn’t been able to hide his conservative bias in the shortlist from which Congress chose the new Vice President. Particularly dark clouds will appear in this spring’s skies if Morales wins the second round. But we can’t rule out society mobilizing again.
Congress’s twists and turns during the crisis leads to the conclusion that without a different Congress the crisis will continue. The analysis of the scenario resulting from the congressional elections will have to wait as no one political force dominates and more than 70 of the previous representatives were reelected, among them some that CICIG and the Attorney General’s Office have accused of aberrant activities. No fewer than 13 parties won at least three of Congress’ 158 seats, with Baldizón’s party winning 44, Torres’ 36, a new party that calls itself Todos 18, Pérez Molina’s 17, Morales’ 11, and Nineth Montenegro’s Together for Guatemala Party 7. Next time we will also analyze the results of the 338 municipal elections.
Only the future will tell us if this dynamic, which involves so many factors, will culminate in the end of the system that began with President Arbenz’s overthrow in 1954 or will continue with just a few Band Aids.
Juan Hernández Pico (SJ) is the envío correspondent in Guatemala.