Institutional deterioration and corruption mark the beginning of the electoral process in Guatemala | International

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Guatemala has started the electoral process limping ahead of the presidential elections in June. The magistrates of the Electoral Tribunal, after a confinement for hours, ruled on Thursday night against an appeal filed by the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP), a left-wing organization that was denied the registration of its candidates, the leader maya Thelma Cabrera and former human rights attorney Jordán Rodas. In this way, the court leaves out of the race two candidates critical of the Government, who have the support of thousands of peasants and indigenous people. “It was an arbitrary decision, based on illegality,” Rodas tells this newspaper from Bogotá, where he received the news that his candidacy for the vice presidency had been rejected. “This is a vendetta. The most conservative sectors of Guatemala pass me the bill, for whom I am a thorn in the shoe,” says Rodas.

Cabrera and Rodas announced on December 28 their decision to compete in the presidential elections. And at the end of January they went to the Electoral Tribunal to register their candidacies, a registration that was denied because, according to the officials in charge of the process, Rodas has an ongoing investigation for alleged irregularities during his tenure as head of the Human Rights Ombudsman. He assures that the news surprised him, because he had not been notified. "I meet all the requirements of the Constitution and the Electoral Law," says Rodas. “This is obviously a strategy for political purposes against me. My successor in the Attorney General's Office has filed a complaint without saying what I am accused of and sent it to the Comptroller's Office. He says that there are irregularities, but without clarifying what they are, ”Rodes defends himself.

For him it is a political strategy of conservative sectors that have a lot of power in Guatemala, such as businessmen and ex-military, whom Rodas has denounced for acts of corruption. Last August, during an interview with EL PAÍS in what was his office at the Attorney General's Office in Guatemala City, Rodas said: "Here we must speak clearly, the CACIF [la principal cámara empresarial] It has done a lot of damage to the country. Those who dominate industry, banking, who have accumulated fortunes in this selfish model, narrowing inequality. Instead of ensuring an economic system that generates better living conditions, they believe they own the farm and act accordingly, like foremen, and every four years they only put puppets in power, manipulate and have given political oxygen to people like [los expresidentes] Otto Pérez Molina, Jimmy Morales and Alejandro Giammattei”.

Jordan Rodas Andrade in his office. sandra sebastian

His criticisms, without a doubt, have generated the contempt of great fortunes, in a country where nothing moves without the approval of big capital. These conservative sectors see as a threat the candidacy of two people who have been strong critics of the system, who denounce corruption and impunity and who focus their electoral strategy precisely on the fight against what in Guatemala has been called the "pact of corrupt”, an alliance between the Government and companies where abuses and arbitrariness prevail. They also advocate for social improvements for the poorest and the indigenous, eternally forgotten, pushed into misery and even exterminated, as happened with the bloody dictatorship of Efraín Ríos Montt. A daughter of Ríos Montt, Zury Ríos, aspires to the presidency and on Saturday received her credential as a candidate. In Guatemala it is said that Ríos is precisely the candidate of the oligarchy, businessmen and the military.

Cabrera and Rodas assure that they will exhaust all the legal resources that the Guatemalan system allows them to reverse the decision of the Electoral Tribunal. Rodas denounced Ramiro Muñoz, head of the Guatemalan Citizen Registry —the body in charge of registering the candidacies of applicants to participate in the electoral process— before the Public Ministry of his country, and next week they will go to the Supreme Court, the last hope that both candidates have to be allowed to participate in the electoral process. They know, however, that the Supreme Court has been denounced for its partiality. "The Court will have the great challenge of showing its independence from political and economic powers," says Rodas. "The magistrates must decide if they will assume the cost that this represents for democracy," he adds.

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Human rights organizations have warned of the irregularities that already mark a process that is just beginning. “The electoral process will take place in a context of deteriorating rule of law. International scrutiny is key to protecting the right of Guatemalans to participate in free and fair elections,” said Juan Pappier, deputy director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch. This body presented a report at the end of January warning of the "threats" against the elections. "The institutions that are in charge of monitoring the elections have little independence or credibility," Pappier explained.

Supporters of Thelma Cabrera during a rally in Guatemala City.
Supporters of Thelma Cabrera during a rally in Guatemala City. David Toro (EFE)

The HRW report states that “the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, the Supreme Court, the Constitutional Court, the Comptroller General of Accounts, and the Public Ministry should guarantee Guatemalan citizens their political rights and protect the legitimacy of the electoral process, Human Rights said. Watch and WOLA. Many officers of these institutions have been appointed through processes that were not fair, transparent or independent, and have demonstrated a manifest disregard for the rule of law”. The agency recalls that “in recent years, the Guatemalan authorities have weakened the separation of powers and human rights guarantees in order to ensure impunity for widespread corruption in the highest spheres of power. The Public Ministry has launched spurious criminal charges against independent journalists, prosecutors, and judges who investigated or revealed acts of corruption, human rights violations, and instances of abuse of power.” There are now more than a dozen prosecutors and judges who have fought against corruption who have had to leave the country for exile due to threats against them, and one of Guatemala's most prominent journalists, José Rubén Zamora, has been caught. Zamora has denounced a political persecution against him.

It is in this context of institutional deterioration and corruption that the elections are held. The campaign officially begins in March and Guatemalans will go to the polls on June 25 to elect a new president, 160 legislators and more than 300 mayors. Among the candidates for the Presidency of Guatemala are the ultra-conservative businessman Roberto Arzú, an admirer of Donald Trump, who has said that he is “ready to make Guatemala great”, paraphrasing the Republican's campaign slogan; Edmon Mulet, a moderate-leaning diplomat with extensive knowledge of international politics and critic of his country's political class and the corruption that eats it away; former first lady Sandra Torres, of the National Unity of Hope party, which has members linked to corruption scandals; Zury Ríos, who in 1990 led a mob that entered Congress while electoral reforms were being discussed, leaving several wounded. Ríos now presents herself as a candidate who respects democracy, although the bloody past of her father, a coup general who is accused of ordering the extermination of thousands of indigenous people and razing at least 400 Mayan communities, weighs heavily on her.

Ríos leads the polls so far, with 16% of the intention to vote. To win the election, the applicants must achieve 50% of the vote, otherwise a second round is organized. In the last elections, Thelma Cabrera surprised by obtaining fourth place in the first round, with more than 450,000 votes, although it was not enough to advance to the second round. Cabrera has the support of the indigenous communities, but it is not clear that this support will be enough to win the election, if her candidacy goes ahead.

Zury Ríos and Héctor Cifuentes receive their credentials as presidential candidates in Guatemala.
Zury Ríos and Héctor Cifuentes receive their credentials as presidential candidates in Guatemala.JOSUE DECAVELE (REUTERS)

Dozens of MLP sympathizers protested last week to register the candidacies of Cabrera and Rodas and threatened demonstrations and pickets throughout the country. "The communities are active, outraged and very fed up," says Rodas. "That must be taken into account, because the patience of the people is not eternal, nor rubber, and this can be the cause of a social explosion that can be avoided if the rule of law and democracy are respected," warns the former attorney. In a country that is sinking into an abyss of corruption and impunity, Guatemalans aspire at least for the elections to be more than a mere formality. But the process has begun limping, which predicts that the coming months will be charged with tension in this small Central American nation.

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