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As Candidates Tied to Guatemalan Army & Oligarch Vie for Power, What’s Next for Popular Uprising?

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In Guatemala, a television comedian has won the first round of the nation’s presidential elections. Sunday’s vote came just days after Guatemala’s President Otto Pérez Molina resigned and was jailed on corruption charges. Pérez Molina’s former vice president and several other close aides have also been jailed. Sunday’s previously scheduled election went ahead despite calls for postponement. The comic actor Jimmy Morales received about 24 percent of the vote, far short of the 50 percent needed for an outright victory. Sandra Torres, the ex-wife of former President Álvaro Colom, and conservative businessman Manuel Baldizón were virtually tied for second place. We speak to Allan Nairn in Guatemala City. He is a journalist and activist who has covered Guatemala since the 1980s.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we turn now to Guatemala, where a television comedian has won the first round of the nation’s presidential elections. Sunday’s vote came just days after Guatemala’s president, Otto Pérez Molina, resigned and was jailed on corruption charges. Pérez Molina’s former vice president and several other close aides have also been imprisoned. Sunday’s previously scheduled election went ahead despite calls for postponement. The comic actor Jimmy Morales received 24 percent of the vote, far short of the 50 percent needed for an outright victory. Sandra Torres, the ex-wife of former President Álvaro Colom, and conservative businessman Manuel Baldizón were virtually tied for second place.

Just before the broadcast, Democracy Now! reached Allan Nairn in Guatemala City, journalist, activist, who has covered Guatemala since the 1980s.

ALLAN NAIRN: Guatemala has been in the midst of an uprising, which has brought down the president, General Pérez Molina, and helped to bring him to jail. In just a few hours, Pérez Molina will be returning to court, where he’s facing corruption charges, but he could—and should—later also be charged with the mass murders he committed in the countryside during the campaign of General Ríos Montt, a campaign for which Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide against the indigenous Mayan population.

Now this astonishing popular uprising has been temporarily interrupted by an election. The election was held on Sunday. There was a mass outcry to postpone the election, because it was seen as rigged from the start. Only those with backing from the oligarchy or the organized crime gangs, especially the drug dealers, had a chance in the election, because those are the only ones with money. The postponement did not happen, though; the election went forward. And two candidates emerged: Jimmy Morales and, apparently, Sandra Torres, in second place.

Morales is the candidate who is backed by the officers most implicated in the highland massacres and assassinations and disappearances and torture of activists—people like General Quilo Ayuso, like General Miranda Trejo. But he ran his campaign as the man who was the enemy of the establishment. He’s a professional TV comedian. He’s a very good, very sharp, very funny speaker. And in fact, in the race, he was the one who best articulated the case against the corrupt establishment. And on election night, when the preliminary results started to come out and it became clear that Jimmy Morales was in the lead, the TV commentators were saying, “This is an anti-system vote by Guatemalans; they’re voting against the system by choosing Jimmy,” when, in fact, as everybody knows—it’s no secret—Jimmy is the candidate of the massacre generals, the massacre generals who are the favorites of the U.S. But as anyone on the street will tell you in Guatemala, these are the bitter choices that they were presented on this ballot. There was no way to vote against the army. There was no way to vote against the mass killing of civilians. There was no way to vote against the oligarchy. There was no way even to vote against mere corruption, against the theft of vast sums of money, because all of the candidates who had an actual chance were the candidates of the generals and the oligarchs and the drug dealers.

The second candidate, who appears to have made it into the runoff round, which will take place in a couple months, is Sandra Torres. Some supporters of the uprising have made the case that she is the least bad of very bad options. She, in the past, when she was first lady of Guatemala, supported programs for the poor. On the other hand, she and her family and her local political apparatus have been extensively implicated in corruption, and they’ve received a great deal of money from the drug cartels. And everyone knows this, but some say, “Well, you take your choice of the criminals. You choose one, or you choose the other.”

The bigger question is: What happens now with the uprising? Apparently, either Morales or Torres will ascend to the presidency. The question is: What will the popular movement make them do? Because the popular movement essentially made the Guatemalan Congress accept the stripping of immunity from General Pérez Molina, the previous president. That’s what made it possible to remove him from the presidency and to make him face justice now for corruption in a Guatemalan court. Acting on their own, it’s clear that neither Morales or Torres would make any moves to dismantle the power of the oligarchy or the killer officers or the foreign investors, mainly U.S. and also Canadian mining companies, that helped to dominate Guatemala and to prop up this system. But, under popular pressure, if this uprising can continue, perhaps some of that can be possible. And that’s the real test. That’s the true political test that Guatemala is facing in the coming weeks. Many people, I think rightly, view this election as a bit of a sideshow.

AMY GOODMAN: Award-winning journalist Allan Nairn, reporting from Guatemala City on the presidential elections there.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

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