Thursday, September 15, 2011

Guatemala: Rigoberto Menchu loses out in Presidential elections

Regional Perspective: Guatemala Presidential elections will go to runoff between two right-wing candidates

Thursday, 15 September 2011

This past Sunday (September 11, 2011) Guatemala held presidential and vice-presidential elections, with ten different parties and multi-party alliances vying for victory. None of the candidates received the necessary 50% plus one vote required to win the elections in the first round, meaning the next president and vice-president of the Central American country will be decided in runoff elections. Retired military general and presidential candidate for the right-wing Patriot Party (PP) Otto Pérez Molina was the front runner of the election, receiving 37% of the votes.

A graduate of the United States School of the Americas (SOA) and a general during the Guatemalan Civil War, Pérez Molina has been denounced before the United Nations by Guatemalan indigenous groups that accuse him of torture and genocide against the indigenous population during the 1990s. His presidential campaign called for a mano dura or iron fist approach to resolving Guatemala's security crisis. His closest follower was Manuel Baldizón of the right-wing Renewed Democratic Freedom (LIDER) party, who recived 23% of the votes - 14 points less than Pérez Molina.

Baldizón, who has been accused of links to drug trafficking cartels, made approval of the death penalty a central promise of his campaign.

The Frente Amplio or Broad Front coalition of leftist parties and organizations whose presidential candidate was indigenous leader and Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú denounced widespread electoral fraud carried out by Pérez Molina's Patriot Party. Read Spanish language coverage of the elections here.

The inevitable election of a hard-right president with a highly repressive strategy for confronting the security issues faced by Guatemala will certainly have repercussions on a Central American regional level, considering the current focus on joint security coordination in the region. In recent years, leaders from all Central American countries have emphasized the need to jointly coordinate strategies for confronting organized crime, drug trafficking, and transnational gangs, and the United States has just begun to develop the Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI), also being called Plan Central America.

With a more extreme, repressive position anticipated from Guatemala's next president in the CARSI negotiations, the plan will likely be pushed further towards a model similar to Plan Colombia and the Mérida Initiative which focus on repressive policing and militarization strategies. This could potentially undermine the counter-efforts of other Central American presidents, including El Salvador's Mauricio Funes, to push for a more comprehensive approach in the security plan that includes social investment and crime prevention programs

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