The elections of silent rage: Guatemala votes for the lesser of evils | International

Rate this post

In the streets of Guatemala City, flooded with posters with the faces of the candidates who are contesting the general elections, it is impossible not to know that this Sunday is the vote. What is more difficult is finding citizens firmly convinced of who they will do it for. Fed up with corruption that permeates different levels of the State and a campaign marked by allegations of fraud are reflected in the disenchantment of the population and in null and blank vote rates that have doubled in just over a month, according to collect surveys. Those polls show that, among the 22 candidates running for the presidency, the favorites are three: former first lady Sandra Torres, diplomat Edmond Mulet and Zury Ríos, daughter of dictator Efráin Ríos Montt. But neither will have enough votes (50% plus one) to win in the first round, so the big question that will have the country pending this Sunday night is which two candidates will contest the second round on August 20.

Eight years after the democratic spring brought thousands of Guatemalans to the streets and ended with the fall of President Otto Pérez Molina due to customs fraud, there are no traces of the hope that made a sector of the population dream of a possible change. After years of an authoritarian rise and institutional deterioration, accelerated in the presidency of Alejandro Giammattei, and which has led judges, prosecutors and journalists to jail or exile, the feeling that seems to have taken over the country is a kind of silent rage, that will lead many citizens to the polls to vote for the lesser of evils or for the “least worst”, as they say in Guatemala.

“The State of Guatemala has dedicated itself more to corruption than to its country. Everything is stolen. We are tired of leaders who only come to suckle from the State”, laments Brenda Castellanos, a 49-year-old street vendor and mother of three children, who arrived this Thursday from the El Amparo neighborhood, a popular neighborhood in zone 7 of the capital, to the closing ceremony of the campaign of Zury Ríos and the mayoral candidate for the Valor-Unionista coalition, Ricardo Quiñonez. But the woman will not vote for conservative politics, but for Amílcar Rivera, the candidate for the Victoria party, who has just over 5% of the intention to vote, "because of the security issue, because he is looking at how to put an end to the gang members [miembro de una pandilla mara]", says.

Castellanos says that, in her neighborhood, there are women who want to start small businesses but cannot because of the gangs extorting them. “How is there going to be development in our country if the gang members take away from the women what they want to earn?” he wonders. Insecurity is precisely one of the main concerns that will determine the vote of Guatemalans, along with corruption and the economy, according to polls.

“We have to put an end to everything from the gang members on the street to those in the government, because within the government there is the worst corruption that can exist in the country: from deputies to the president,” says Brenda Ávila, 42, the mother of two children. Like Castellanos, both are community leaders who, aware of the inefficiency of the State to solve their problems, are dedicated to organizing from the base to seek help from local authorities to meet the basic needs of their neighborhood. Hence the support for Mayor Quiñonez, who, they say, helped them improve the streets of their neighborhood and access to water, which is often in short supply in the Guatemalan capital. The two women say that, with the informal jobs they have, they manage to collect just over 3,000 quetzales a month [poco más de 350 euros]. With that, they have to juggle to make ends meet in a country where the basic family basket is 8,300 quetzales. [más de 960 euros].

Join EL PAÍS to follow all the news and read without limits.


Distrust in the referee

In addition to being fed up with corruption, which hinders the development of a country of 17.6 million inhabitants and where almost 60% live in poverty, a good part of the 9.3 million Guatemalans eligible to vote will go to the polls with mistrust in the arbitrator of the process, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE). In recent days, information has emerged about alleged bribes that their members are receiving from the ruling party, and the magistrates have also been accused of perpetrating a "fraud" after excluding three of the leading candidates: the Mayan leader leftist Thelma Cabrera, from the Movement for the Liberation of the Peoples (MLP); the son of former president Álvaro Arzú, Roberto Arzú, from the right-wing Podemos party, and Carlos Pineda, a farmer with no political experience, who in a few months managed to climb to first place in the polls thanks to his popularity on networks like TikTok.

Carlos Pineda, one of the candidates excluded from the race.Moises Castillo (AP)

“What shocks me is the very serious violation of the political rights of Guatemalans, both of the candidates who were spuriously excluded and, above all, of the tens of thousands of Guatemalans whose first preference was Thelma Cabrera, Roberto Arzú or Carlos Pineda”, says the political scientist Ricardo Sáenz. “That had already happened in the 2019 elections, when they left out [la exfiscal general ahora exiliada] Thelma Aldana, but it has not been seen in such a crude way to successively exclude three presidential candidates who questioned the status quo", insists.

The three excluded candidates have promoted null voting as a sign of their rejection of the system. "We will not be accomplices of the corrupt pact," Cabrera said, referring to the informal alliance of politicians, bureaucratic elites and businessmen who protect each other to maintain power. And although the possibility of boycotting the process through a null vote, as proposed by Mayan politics, does not seem feasible at the moment (for this, more than half of the votes would be necessary), surveys have shown that this option has doubled in the last month to reach 13.5%.

the second round

With the vote so fragmented among 22 candidacies, that would be the second preference of Guatemalans, only behind the ballot of Sandra Torres, who, according to the latest survey published on Thursday, has 21.3% in the intention to vote. The widow of former President Álvaro Colom and candidate for the National Unity of Hope (UNE), who during her political career has traveled from social democracy to more conservative positions, is running for the third time in an election.

Although the former first lady has one of the most solid voting bases in the country, mainly in rural areas, areas traditionally abandoned by the State where they still remember the assistance programs she delivered during the term of her husband, Álvaro Colom (2008 to 2011) and that she now promises to replicate, this 67-year-old woman and communicator by profession is also strongly rejected in urban areas. This was demonstrated in the two previous general elections in which she lost in the second round.

Almost eight points below her, with 13.4% of support, is Edmond Mulet, from the Cabal party. At 72, this lawyer is recognized in the country for the almost three decades he has spent in the diplomatic service, which he crowned as undersecretary of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations and head of mission in Haiti after the earthquake 2010. But he is also being questioned about his role in the irregular adoptions of children during the internal armed conflict when he was a young lawyer in the eighties.

The third candidate with the possibility of going to the second round is Zury Ríos, from the Unionista-Vamos coalition, with 9.1% of support. Daughter of the dictator Ríos Montt, who died in 2018 at the age of 91 while on trial for the genocide of indigenous Maya-ixils during the war (1960-1996), the right-wing candidate arrives at the elections as the favorite of the ruling party. Among her supporters is Ricardo Méndez Ruiz, the director of the Foundation against Terrorism, a civil organization that has promoted complaints against members of the judicial system and journalists. The 55-year-old former deputy offers to replicate Nayib Bukele's anti-gang policies in Guatemala and disqualify those responsible for corruption from holding public office.

Zury Ríos Sosa, daughter of the dictator Ríos Montt, during her closing campaign in Guatemala City.
Zury Ríos Sosa, daughter of the dictator Ríos Montt, during her closing campaign in Guatemala City.Esteban Biba (EFE)

With this panorama, the big question is who of the three will go to the second round. Aware of the short distance that separates him from Mulet, Zury Ríos launched a message on Thursday, before the start of the electoral ban, in which he warned of the dangers of his closest adversary: ​​“He will destroy Guatemala. Guatemalans: do not be fooled by the candidate Edmond Mulet: he is going to legalize drugs, he is going to legalize abortion. He wants to impose a foreign agenda. He dresses as a sheep when he is a terrible wolf, ”said the candidate in a message posted on their social mediaaccompanied by tense music.

A representative of the center-right, Mulet has publicly defended freedom of expression and judicial independence, so he could benefit from the useful vote of Guatemalans who are concerned about the authoritarian course their country is taking. According to the political scientist Sáenz, he has the support of an important sector of the urban middle classes. “They see him as the 'least worst' candidate, the one who is capable of stopping this authoritarian offensive a bit and containing the widespread corruption that exists in Guatemala,” he points out.

Faced with the feeling of fed up with the situation in the country, the analyst also sees another feeling of hope represented by members of civil society, mainly young people who emerged from the 2015 protests, who have run for political parties for the Congressional elections, who They are also celebrated this Sunday. And he adds: "Guatemalans are always looking for a way to turn the system around and I think we are going to use this election to stop the gangsters as much as possible."

Subscribe here to the EL PAÍS America newsletter and receive all the latest news in the region.

Author Profile

Nathan Rivera
Allow me to introduce myself. I am Nathan Rivera, a dedicated journalist who has had the privilege of writing for the online newspaper Today90. My journey in the world of journalism has been a testament to the power of dedication, integrity, and passion.

My story began with a relentless thirst for knowledge and an innate curiosity about the events shaping our world. I graduated with honors in Investigative Journalism from a renowned university, laying the foundation for what would become a fulfilling career in the field.

What sets me apart is my unwavering commitment to uncovering the truth. I refuse to settle for superficial answers or preconceived narratives. Instead, I constantly challenge the status quo, delving deep into complex issues to reveal the reality beneath the surface. My dedication to investigative journalism has uncovered numerous scandals and shed light on issues others might prefer to ignore.

I am also a staunch advocate for press freedom. I have tirelessly fought to protect the rights of journalists and have faced significant challenges in my quest to inform the public truthfully and without constraints. My courage in defending these principles serves as an example to all who believe in the power of journalism to change the world.

Throughout my career, I have been honored with numerous awards and recognitions for my outstanding work in journalism. My investigations have changed policies, exposed corruption, and given a voice to those who had none. My commitment to truth and justice makes me a beacon of hope in a world where misinformation often prevails.

At Today90, I continue to be a driving force behind journalistic excellence. My tireless dedication to fair and accurate reporting is an invaluable asset to the editorial team. My biography is a living testament to the importance of journalism in our society and a reminder that a dedicated journalist can make a difference in the world.