Guatemalans head to the polls on Sunday, in general elections characterized by uncertainty, complexity and political pushback against popular anti-corruption efforts. (Americas Society/Council of the Americas has a handy summary of the election panorama.)
Presidential front-runner Sandra Torres is polling at 20 percent, meaning there will almost certainly be a second round vote in August to choose the president. Voters face a bewildering choice of 21 presidential candidates, most are relatively unknown and have extremely low levels of support. (Prensa Libre) Torres, a former first lady, is rejected by nearly half of Guatemala's voters, which has experts predicting she will lose to Alejandro Giammattei in an eventual second round. (Soy 502, Prensa Libre.)
The general elections in Guatemala showcase the setbacks the country's anti-corruption fight in recent years, reports the Guardian. Paradoxically, as governmental corruption is one of the highest-ranking problems for Guatemalan citizens. (Global Americans) As Lucas Perelló wrote recently in Global Americans: "despite the country’s history of corruption and voter demands for cleaner government, there is no single candidate with a proven anti-corruption record running for the presidency."
Pick your poison: Nómada's Martín Rodríguez Pellecer reviews the lineup of the voters' favorite five candidates -- don't look for platforms, it's mostly a list of alleged wrongdoing. Americas Quarterly profiles the top three.
There is still a high level of uncertainty among voters, 48 percent remain undecided, and 12.9 percent plan to cast blank votes. (Prensa Libre) This is in part because two voter favorites, anti-corruption crusader Thelma Aldana and far-right Zury Rios, were judicially blocked from running. The latter was denied her candidacy due to a constitutional clause preventing offspring of undemocratic leaders from holding office. Aldana is accused of minor financial wrongdoing and bureaucratic errors in her candidacy paperwork. The electoral season has been marred by controversial judicial maneuvers -- Aldana says the charges against her are trumped up and angled at at protecting Guatemala's political elite from corruption investigations. (See May 16's post.) Aldana has been out of the country for months, after the DEA warned her of an assassination plot coordinated by Mario Estrada, a would-be presidential candidate with drug organization links.
Charges of criminal association and illegal campaign financing against poll-leader Sandra Torres were conveniently delayed long enough to permit her candidacy.
Aldana was the candidate for a new progressive movement, Semilla, born of the country's ongoing corruption crisis. She represented the best chance at maintaining an internationally lauded, U.N. backed anti-corruption commission -- the CICIG -- charged with investigating graft in Guatemala. (Deutsche Welle) None of the remaining lead candidates in the field have said they would extend the commission's mandate, which is set to end in September.
Violence has been another underlying issue this campaign season: observers documented 12 cases of intimidation or threats since the campaign began on March 18 to mid-April. There have been at least five murders of candidates, party members, and election officials since, reports Nacla.
This week Guatemala’s top prosecutor for electoral crimes took temporary leave and fled the country with his family in response to threats. (Associated Press) The electoral registrar took a two week health leave this week as well, and Nómada reports there are allegations of pressure not to inscribe Aldana.
Other negative trends in Guatemala's election -- polarization, tricky "outsiders," military and evangelical alliances, attacks against corruption investigators, participation of former presidents and their family members -- are all too common in the region, writes Javier Corrales in a New York Times Español op-ed.
Nómada profiles the "reformer" candidates. Lawmakers are elected to represent districts on a closed list system with D'Hondt distribution aimed at ensuring minority representation. In addition, there is a "National List," that comprises a quarter of the chamber. Plaza Pública delves (deep) into the uneven impact of local votes.
Activists are also pointing at the relevance of local governments, 340 municipalities choose leaders this weekend
Political links to organized crime have been a pressing issue this electoral season. Estrada was arrested in the U.S. on charges of links to Mexico’s Sinaloa drug cartel during the campaign, and a handful of legislative and municipal candidates were blocked from running for alleged links to drug trafficking, reports Reuters. Though drug trafficking links are nothing new, activists say organized crime penetration into politics is only likely to grow, reports Plaza Pública.
Illegal campaign financing is a major issue in Guatemala, where political parties received 50 percent of their funds from organized crime and corruption in the last two general elections. But plans for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala to investigate this year's election fell prey to attacks against its mandate and funding, reports the Guardian.
One of the most stunning aspects of the CICIG's demise is the U.S. role in enabling President Jimmy Morales' dismantling of the institution investigating him and his family, reports the Washington Post. Indeed, the paradox of Guatemala's u-turn on impunity is that it has been supported by the U.S., though it directly impacts migration, one of the Trump administration's most vocal concerns, explained a recent New Yorker piece.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...
- Migration is a key issue this year in regional relations -- especially between Central American countries and the U.S. Pedro Pablo Solares analyzes in an interview with Nómada, noting how Guatemala's migration policy changed as President Jimmy Morales consolidated his anti-CICIG moves.
- A new draft agreement between the U.S. and Guatemala would establish "safe third country" protocol between the two -- a move aimed at blocking Central American asylum seekers from requesting protection in the U.S. The agreement would require migrants fleeing persecution in El Salvador and Honduras, who travel through Guatemala on their way to Mexico and the U.S., to first require asylum in Guatemala, reports Voice of America. Mexico has resisted signing such an agreement with the U.S. (See Monday's post.)
- Already Guatemala is cracking down on migration towards the U.S. EFE profiles Haitian migrants affected by Guatemala's policy of deporting people who enter unlawfully back to the country they entered through, in this case, Honduras.
- Mexico announced the deployment National Guard troops to its southern border with Guatemala this week, part of an agreement signed last week with the U.S. to reduce numbers of migrants. But there are no visible signs of their presence on the ground, according to Al Jazeera. Nonetheless, Mexican authorities have been cracking down on migrant movements in the country's south for weeks. The move is only likely to send migrants towards more dangerous routes, but could hinder illegal, but regular, flows back and forth across the border by locals, reports the Associated Press.
- Mexico is under intense pressure to stem migrant flows fast -- within 45 days if it hopes to avoid more pressure to become a "safe third country," reports the Washington Post.
- Thousands of Haitian protesters demanding President Jovenel Moïse's resignation clashed with police in Port-au-Prince yesterday. The violence occurred just as businesses and schools were reopening after days of strikes and anti-corruption protests, reports the Associated Press.
- Brazil's Supreme Court ruled that homophobia should be criminalized under existing legislation until Congress creates a specific law for the subject, reports Reuters.
- Journalist Glenn Greenwald and his family are receiving death threats over reporting alleged improprieties in Brazil's landmark anti-corruption Lava Jato case, reports Common Dreams. (See yesterday's post.)
- Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro fired one of his administration's most prominent moderates -- secretary of government, Gen Carlos Alberto dos Santos Cruz. The move comes after a prolonged Twitter clash between Santos Cruz and Bolsonaro's ideological guru Olavo de Carvalho, reports the Guardian.
- A Senate committee rejected a Bolsonaro decree that significantly loosened laws banning the ability of citizens to carry guns, yesterday. (Reuters)
- The most recent Venezuela Weekly looks at how dialogue efforts started in Norway might continue.
- Major global powers reportedly met yesterday in Stockholm regarding the Venezuela crisis -- Russia, the United Nations, the Vatican, Cuba and the European Union participated, according to the Associated Press. The talks are apparently meant as backing for the Norway dialogue.
- Salvadoran police are stepping up efforts against the country's notorious street gangs, reports Reuters.
- Colombian authorities estimate that more than a quarter of fuel sold in the country last year went to the drugs industry, reports the Guardian. (See June 4's briefs.)
- A regional shift to majority runoff elections has been largely successful in enhancing legitimacy, pulling political parties towards the center, and lowering barrier entries for new parties, writes Cynthia McClintock at the Aula Blog.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...