Rights Action
June 19, 2019
“Guatemalan election as an act of organized crime”
by Francisco Goldman, New York Times
Guatemala’s election day has again come and gone.  Results?  There will be four more years of no democracy, organized crime infiltration of the government and state, extreme exploitation of most workers, racism, government and private sector repression, and corruption and impunity for the rich and powerful.
Ever more Guatemalans will be forced to flee and seek refugee status in the U.S.
In this accurate article (The Guatemalan Election as an Act of Organized Crime, June 18, 2019,, Francisco Goldman is correct that “hopes for Guatemalan democracy have [again] been dashed.”
However, it is far more than the administration of “Trump” that is ‘enabling’ all this in Guatemala.  Going back to 1954, Republican and Democratic administrations alike have maintained military, economic and political relations with this racist, exploitative, repressive and corrupt Guatemala.  Similarly with Liberal and Conservative administrations in Canada.  Ditto for global companies, the World Bank and Inter-American Development Bank, in the sectors of sugarcane, African palm, mining, hydro-electric dams, bananas, textile factories, etc.
This undemocratic, organized crime characterized Guatemala, that Francisco Goldman describes, is ‘enabled’ by all the mentioned governments and international actors.  Most recently, this Guatemala has referred to as a “democratic allie” of the U.S. and Canada in their efforts to destroy the Venezuelan economy and overthrow its government.
Because of all this complicity and deception, ever more desperate Guatemalans will be forced to flee in refugee caravans ...
Grahame Russell, Rights Action

The Guatemalan Election as an Act of Organized Crime
The first round of voting makes clear that hopes for democracy have been dashed

By Francisco Goldman, June 18, 2019


Guatemala elections: Thelma Aldana was not permited to run, even as a narco-candidate was

MEXICO CITY — Four years ago, Guatemala seemed poised to enter a new era of democracy enforced by the rule of law and transparency. Popular protests and courageous judges had accomplished the unthinkable, sending a sitting president, Otto Pérez Molina, a former general, to prison for corruption, along with many members of his government.
The United Nations-backed anti-corruption and impunity commission in Guatemala, known by its acronym CICIG, working in tandem with a justice system led by Attorney General Thelma Aldana, had achieved what had seemed nearly impossible, demonstrating that powerful politicians weren’t always above the law. CICIG was lauded as an example for other corruption-beleaguered governments throughout Latin America.
Now those hopes for Guatemalan democracy have been dashed.
Guatemala held national elections on Sunday, and the first-round results are in. The center-left presidential candidate Sandra Torres, of the UNE party, is leading with about 25 percent of the vote. She has been accused of having accepted $2.5 million in unreported illicit campaign funds, though charges weren’t filed against her by Guatemala’s dismayingly passive attorney general, Consuelo Porras, until the day after her candidacy became official, guaranteeing her immunity from prosecution.
By contrast, when Ms. Porras’s predecessor, Thelma Aldana, announced her candidacy for the presidency, 18 legal motions were filed against her, a judge issued an arrest order, and an electoral court disqualified her on the day before her candidacy would have become official, all over trumped-up and phony charges. Ms. Aldana was leading in polls.
The agreed-upon unifying plot of this election was: It doesn’t really matter who wins, as long as it’s not Thelma Aldana. Thus the extremely fragmented first round, in which the second-place candidate among 19 competitors, Alejandro Giammattei, received about 15 percent of the vote. He and Ms. Torres will compete in an Aug. 11 runoff. Mr. Giammattei is backed by former military officers loyal to the former president Pérez Molina, still in prison, and to President Jimmy Morales.
When in 2018 Morales discovered that he was being investigated for illicit campaign contributions by CICIG, he illegally expelled its commissioner, Iván Velásquez, and terminated the commission’s mandate, which ends in September.
The Pact of the Corrupt
CICIG provided the evidence for the accusations, in February of this year, against Sandra Torres. Because of CICIG, 33 current Guatemalan lawmakers — 21 percent of the legislature — are under investigation for corruption, though their status as legislators grants them legal immunity. These politicians belong to the influential legislative bloc known in Guatemala as El Pacto de Corruptos.
President Morales and the Pact of the Corrupt plotted and manipulated these elections to protect themselves from prosecutions and were supported by others determined to prevent democratic challenges to a corrupt status quo. (According to CICIG, over the past two elections, Guatemalan political parties have received 50 percent of their funding from organized crime and corruption.)
CICIG also provided the evidence that made a fugitive from justice — Interpol issued an international warrant — of the wife of the media magnate Ángel González, whose monopoly over Guatemalan free-access television has played a Fox News-like role on behalf of President Morales and against CICIG. Over the past 10 years, CICIG has brought charges against 680 people, jailing two presidents, military officers, corrupt business leaders, narco chiefs and so on; the most notorious, including Pérez Molina, are being held in the military’s Mariscal Zavala prison, from which they still exert influence.
If we scrutinize this election as the act of organized crime that it was, Mr. Morales is merely the most obvious culprit.
CICIG is by far the most popular institution in Guatemala, with a 72 percent approval rating. Why would a presidential candidate run against it? If Ms. Aldana had run, she would have been the only anti-establishment candidate to favor renewing CICIG’s mandate. Barring some shocking twist, such as either Ms. Torres or Mr. Giammattei suddenly vowing to support CICIG in a ploy to win votes while betraying their most powerful supporters — and, at least in Ms. Torres’s case, positioning herself to face a future trial — this election means the end of the commission’s work in Guatemala.
Whenever I have an opportunity to write about Guatemala for an American audience — as I’ve occasionally been doing for more than 30 years — I have to answer the question, Why should this matter to Americans?
In some ways, this election says more about the United States today than it does even about Guatemala. The Trump administration was its active enabler, and that’s an observation widely shared in Guatemala. “The country will remain under the control of the mafias that succeeded in ousting CICIG, thanks only to the support of Trump, ” Manfredo Marroquín, the head of Acción Ciudadana, a Guatemalan NGO, and one of this election’s few promising, low-name-recognition presidential candidates, representing a marginal political party, told me.
President Morales, a former television comedian who performed skits in blackface, a knave, knows how to curry favor with President Trump. Like Mr. Trump, he puts his own corrupt personal interests far above those of his country’s citizenry, especially above those of the most marginalized and impoverished, in this case the rural Maya who in droves have been fleeing Guatemala’s drastic violence, poverty and lack of opportunities, headed to the United States border.
Ever more refugees will flee
“Syria without a war,” is how Mr. Marroquín described it, predicting an increased flood of desperate refugees as the corrupt mafias tighten their grip on the country’s government and institutions.
This Guatemalan election is a manifestation of the disrespect for fundamental democratic values, institutions and the rule of law, and of a contempt for international initiatives, shared by Mr. Morales and Mr. Trump and their supporters, a true coproduction. What has happened in Guatemala may be the most paradigmatic expression of Mr. Trump’s vision of democratic government that exists in the world. This is a canary-in-a-coal-mine election about the world as Mr. Trump would like it to be and is trying to make it. We should all pay attention.
The democracy Guatemalans bravely stood up for and defended in 2015 is now nearly dead, yet there are paradoxical signs of life. Voting turnout was low, which isn’t usually a sign of life, but in this case is, because it reflects widespread repudiation of the status quo.
There were promising new marginal candidates like Marroquín, who perhaps gained visibility for the future. Foremost among these is Thelma Cabrera, a Maya Mam Indigenous woman representing a little-known campesino party with little infrastructure or funding, and who received the endorsement of Ms. Aldana, the former attorney general. Ms. Cabrera finished fourth in the first round, and some say that if the election had lasted another two weeks, she would have made it into the second round. That would have been a rude surprise for Guatemala’s political mafias.

[Francisco Goldman, a novelist and journalist, is the author, most recently, of “The Interior Circuit: A Mexico City Chronicle.” The Times is committed to publishing a diversity of letters to the editor. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our articles. Here’s our email:
Follow The New York Times Opinion section on FacebookTwitter (@NYTopinion) and Instagram.]

Rights Action (U.S. & Canada)
Since 1995, Rights Action directly funds community human rights, environment and territory defenders in Guatemala and Honduras. We provide funds to victims of repression, human rights violations, health harms and natural disasters. We work to hold accountable the U.S. and Canadian governments, companies and investors, international actors (World Bank, etc.) that cause, contribute to and profit from repression and human rights violations, environmental harms and forced evictions, corruption and impunity.
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