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With Military Backing, TV Comedian Wins in Guatemala in First Vote Since Jailing of Ex-President

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In Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, a right-leaning former television comedian with no government experience, won the presidency after less than half of eligible voters cast ballots on Sunday. Morales received 67 percent of the votes — more than double the votes cast for his contender, ex-first lady Sandra Torres. The election comes after massive popular protests ousted former President Otto Pérez Molina in September. Pérez Molina is now in jail facing corruption charges. President-elect Jimmy Morales is well known for his starring role in a long-running sketch comedy show, which often featured lewd sketches that some have criticized as being homophobic and sexist. But little is known about Morales’ political platform, although he has unveiled a handful of eccentric proposals, such as tagging teachers with GPS trackers to ensure they attend classes. We speak to journalist and activist Allan Nairn in Guatemala City.

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AMY GOODMAN: In Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, a right-leaning former television comedian with no government experience, won the presidency after less than half of eligible voters cast ballots Sunday. Morales received 67 percent of the vote—more than double the votes cast for his contender, the ex-first lady Sandra Torres. The election comes after massive popular protests ousted former President Otto Pérez Molina in September. Pérez Molina is now in jail facing corruption charges.

President-elect Jimmy Morales is well known for his starring role in a long-running sketch comedy show which often featured lewd sketches that some have criticized as being homophobic and sexist. But little is known about Morales’s political platform, although he has unveiled a handful of eccentric proposals such as tagging teachers with GPS trackers to ensure they attend classes. He celebrated his victory Sunday.

PRESIDENT-ELECT JIMMY MORALES: [translated] We’ve been blessed today with a beautiful day. Let us do everything in our power so that the next few years will also be the best for Guatemala, because constructing Guatemala isn’t a job just for one man, nor two men. It’s a job for each and every citizen of this great nation.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we go to Guatemala, where we’re going to continue our conversation with journalist Allan Nairn, who’s been covering Guatemala since the 1980s. He’s in Guatemala City right now.

Allan, what is most important to understand about what’s just taken place in Guatemala?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, Guatemala has been in the middle of a popular uprising, which brought down the former president, General Pérez Molina, who was an officer implicated in the massacres in the Altiplano. And in a sense, this election was just an interruption of that uprising, probably a temporary interruption. As many Guatemalans have said, they have a chance to vote, but not to choose, because if someone wanted to vote against the system, there was no option on the ballot. Both candidates came out of the oligarchy. One in particular, Sandra Torres, had special backing from the narcotics syndicates in the past.

Jimmy Morales had special backing from the army massacre officers. As he celebrated his victory, sitting next to him—sitting next to him was Colonel Ovalle Maldonado, who used to be at the Cobán military base, where they’ve so far discovered more than 500 corpses, many of them women and children, who were executed by the army, as Ovalle Maldonado and General Miranda Trejo and other of Jimmy’s key people were there. The founder of Jimmy’s political party, General Quilo Ayuso, said explicitly that the party was founded in order to protect officers from prosecution. And he also said, “I kill anyone I want.” So the army is still in the palace, as they were under Pérez Molina. But now, in a sense, that palace is [now surrounded by the people, by a popular movement that has the capacity to challenge the army’s, the elite’s power].

AMY GOODMAN: Let me go, as we fix the video feed to Guatemala, to an interview from prison with the jailed ex-President Otto Pérez Molina claiming that Vice President Joe Biden threatened to cut off U.S. aid to Guatemala unless Molina allowed the corruption probe to continue.

OTTO PÉREZ MOLINA: [translated] Vice President Biden didn’t just tell me that it was practically conditioned. The way he handled it was to convince the U.S. Congress that if we don’t have the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, support will not be forthcoming for the Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity.

AMY GOODMAN: President Pérez Molina, who went on to say that the U.S. ambassador had demanded he ask for a public resignation of Guatemala’s former vice president, Roxana Baldetti.

OTTO PÉREZ MOLINA: [translated] I told the Guatemalan foreign minister, “Look, Foreign Minister, do me a favor and tell this gentleman, the U.S. ambassador in Guatemala, that he needs to understand what his job is here. He is an ambassador, not the country’s president.” And their desire to put conditions, wanting to ask for ministers to change, asking that I publicly ask for the resignation of the vice president? I told him I wouldn’t do it.

AMY GOODMAN: Vice President Baldetti resigned amidst the corruption scandal in May. Allan Nairn, if you could comment on this?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, Pérez Molina was Washington’s man for decades. He was trained at the School of the Americas. He was on the CIA payroll when he ran the G2 military intelligence hit squad. The U.S. was telling him not to resign, as the people were in the streets demanding his resignation and as prosecutors were trying to indict him for corruption. Now in prison as a pariah, he’s trying to rebuild himself as a—suddenly, as a nationalist. And he’s become kind of a national joke of Guatemala, because everyone knows that he was Washington’s man, and suddenly now he’s trying to blame his plight on the U.S. He was basically asking Washington to step in and save him as he was about to be toppled, but that didn’t work out for him.

But the important point is that there’s this popular movement, and now the army is even more strongly in the palace. The most—the soldiers with the most—the officers with the most blood on their hands surround Jimmy Morales. These are the people who have been involved in massacres, like those of Cobán, Río Negro, Dos Erres, countless others. Jimmy should be willing, if he claims to be a new politician, to prosecute all these officers, to bring them to justice, and also to prosecute the U.S. CIA and military people who were working hand-in-glove with them. There’s a danger of increased repression now, especially in the countryside, against Guatemalan grassroots activists who were brave enough to standing up against the U.S. and Canadian mining companies and against environmental abuses by corrupt officials. A number of them have been murdered in recent years. And many of these murders have been done by private security corporations that are contracted to the oligarchs, to the foreign investors and to narcotics syndicates. And these are precisely the people that are now surrounding Jimmy Morales.

AMY GOODMAN: Very quickly, Allan, you interviewed Otto Pérez Molina before he was president, more than 20 years ago in the highlands of Guatemala, as you stood over dead bodies. You talk about him as being a massacre president. Will Jimmy Morales be open to the prosecution of these generals, many of whom you say support him?

ALLAN NAIRN: Well, probably not, because they’re his people. But many people thought, when they went to the polls, because that was his propaganda, and that’s what the Guatemalan corporate press let him get away with, that they were voting for someone who was a little newer. If he is in fact different than the previous, he should allow such prosecutions. But his money, his political backing, comes from the massacre—comes from the massacre officers. What people say in the street is, “Yeah, they’re all thieves, but at least Jimmy hasn’t had the chance to steal yet, so maybe that’s better than someone like Sandra,” who was the other candidate, who had already been in office and had proven to be corrupt.

The popular movement, though, has two key weaknesses: One, they have yet to move beyond the issue of corruption to the issue of massacre, and, two, it has yet to broaden widely to the Mayan heartland. The Mayan population makes up half of the surviving Guatemalan population. The political elite of Guatemala, in particular the military and death squad elements who surround Jimmy, are viciously racist against the Mayan population. If the Mayan population becomes a part—an even larger part of the uprising and they go to the streets, this government, too, could be shaken. There was an extraordinary scene in one of the national TV debates sponsored by the corporate press between—a debate between Jimmy and Sandra, his opponent. The moderator asked both candidates, “If the people go to the streets [demanding your resignation, will you] resign?” Now, that question was an acknowledgment of the power and legitimacy of the movement, and it’s also the kind of question that would be inconceivable in, say, a U.S. presidential debate.

AMY GOODMAN: Allan Nairn, I want to thank you for being with us, journalist and activist, reporting to us from Guatemala City. He’s been covering Guatemala since the 1980s. You can follow him on Twitter at @allannairn14 for the latest news.

This is Democracy Now! Later in the broadcast, we’re going to Oxford, Mississippi. The University of Mississippi has taken down the Confederate flag—well, it’s the Mississippi flag with a Confederate battle flag within it. Students protested, and the university has just complied. But first, we’ll be speaking with the Nobel Prize-winning economist Joe Stiglitz. Stay with us.

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