The Results are In! Guatemalans Vote "NO" for Molina's "Heavy Hand"; Colom Elected President
In the wake of
The final tally conveyed that businessman
Alvaro Colom Caballeros garnered 52.8% of the vote to Perez Molina's 47.2%. The opposition's respect for the election results seems to
be a small step forward for the rule of law in
However, the portrayal of Colom and his
National Unity of Hope (UNE) party as a harbinger of social transformation in
Colom's past includes running textile
businesses, supporting the refugees' return from
Perez Molina prevailed in
As voting day neared, news leaked out about Perez Molina's role in the civil war and in more recent human rights crimes. Newspaper ads by citizens' groups and leaflets dropped onto city streets reminded voters of his suspected involvement in the brutal 1998 murder of beloved Bishop Gerardi days after the church leader released a report of war testimonies. In an October 31 interview with the U.S.-based media show Democracy Now!, author Francisco Goldman noted Molina's links to the Gerardi murder and to illegal security structures; youth in towns such as Santiago Atitlan downloaded, translated, and handed out copies of the interview transcript to citizens and voters.
Another blow to Perez Molina was his refusal to participate in a series of televised debates - a decision likely precipitated by his fear of addressing expected questions about his involvement in the Gerardi murder and other abuses. This move increased Colom's media visibility, while depicting Perez Molina as arrogant and unable to articulate his own platform.
In addition, Perez Molina's energetic dismissal of agrarian reform lost him support in rural areas. His running-mate, industrialist Ricardo Castillo Sinibaldi, managed to further alienate indigenous voters by expressing racist attitudes, including a rejection of Mayan languages.
Meanwhile, Colom appealed to rural voters by focusing his campaign speeches on poverty, hunger, and landlessness and promising to solicit Maya elders' opinions on government matters. His approach translated into victory in 20 of the 22 departments.
Also, Colom's latest campaign slogan affirming
that "Violence is met with intelligence" rang true with voters who recognize
Approximately 47% of the population went to the polls for this runoff round. Election day transpired calmly, although violence marred the months leading up to it. A PP secretary and a former operative with the High Presidential Guard (EMP) were killed in early October; suspicion arose that the double murder was related to internal party squabbles. The UNE lost 18 of its candidates to murder over the course of campaign season (May-November). When a key strategist left the UNE, he received threatening phone calls that he attributes to organized crime elements within the party. And two journalists from elPeriodico received death threats when they uncovered alleged links between the PP and drug-trafficking.
In the days leading up to the elections, polls
Relief at Perez Molina's defeat is muted by a recognition of the serious challenges facing the next administration. If Colom's promises of improving social welfare were not simply used to win votes but are actually genuine, their implementation is sure to clash with the interests of the oligarchy, the military, and clandestine structures, including the very individuals and groups that backed Colom's campaign.
Even if Colom does set out to tackle poverty, violence, and racism, he will have to contend with well-entrenched systems of privilege and impunity that resist reform. Colom's vague proposals, the weak image that he projects, and his penchant for making questionable alliances do not bode well for the formidable tasks that he will face during his term in office.
Moreover, his negotiation skills will be put to the test as he interacts with a legislature split into 11 parties that includes figures such as General Efrain Rios Montt who presided over a particularly violent period of the genocidal war. And Perez Molina himself has pledged to stay in the public light; his backers could constitute a formidable opposition force.
In the end, Colom will be forced to conduct a balancing act between competing interests. Will he ensure that the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is able to uncover clandestine structures of violence and repression, or will he stand aside as shady parallel powers manipulate the State? Will he undertake tax reform to finance sorely needed social programs, or will he yield to the big-business interests that jealously guard their wealth? Will he respect the rights of communities to oppose mega-development projects on their lands, or will he give in to international pressures to further advance the "free trade" agenda in the hemisphere? In determining public policy, will Colom fulfill his campaign promises to the indigenous and poor majority, or will his corporate cronies dominate decision-making as usual?
NISGUA will stay vigilant and
keep our base informed, as opposition forces both nationally and internationally
will certainly challenge Colom if and when he attempts to institute his
progressive campaign promises. As always, NISGUA will push for
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