Tags: Analysis: Guatemalan Gen Likely President

Analysis: Guatemalan Gen Likely President

Friday, 29 Jul 2011 10:14 AM


Former General Otto Perez Molina is poised to win Guatemala’s presidential elections on September 11, raising hopes of containing drug cartel violence and political instability while also spurring fears of a new round of repression and brutality by the government.

Former General Otto Perez Molina and former First Lady Sandra Torres continue to vie for the Guatemalan presidency, but Perez Molina took a large lead recently. Public fears of increasing violence and inroads by Mexican drug gangs in the country are raising the popularity of the right-wing candidate, whose electoral symbol is a closed fist. Recent polls by polling organization Vox Latina gives Perez Molina 56% of the vote, compared to only 16% for Torres. Perez Molina is running on an anti-crime and anti-violence campaign, promising a “heavy handed” response to crime and an increased role for the military in fighting violence. Human rights organizations report that 31 people have been killed during the divisive campaign.

Analysis

Perez Molina’s large lead probably means he will win the September presidential ballot handily. His victory would indicate that the Guatemalan public is willing to trade the possibility of increased military involvement in politics and repression for an end to the growing problem of violent drug cartel activity in Guatemala.

Perez Molina backed his vow to eradicate cartels and bring stability to the country by his credentials as a former general in the brutal Guatemalan army of the 1970s and 1980s when one of his positions was head of intelligence. Perez Molina has been widely accused by human rights activists and the press of being behind the brutal 1998 assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi, a human rights activist who was beaten to death after publishing a report on military victims of the civil war. Three lower level army officers and a priest were charged in 2001 for their involvement in the killing.

Although Perez Molina has promised to uphold Guatemalan law, he has foreshadowed a willingness to circumvent certain legal provisions restraining the military and is likely to push through changes that give the military more power and autonomy. He is likely to include the military in police actions and allow military influence in politics. While such changes would undermine Guatemala’s efforts to move away from its legacy of military dictatorships, the Guatemalan public appears prepared to swallow an increased military role in government under Perez Molina in order to eradicate cartel violence.

Perez Molina’s position has been further bolstered by the bizarre case of his primary opponent, Sandra Torres. Torres was married to current president Alvaro Colom until a few months ago when she divorced him to attain eligibility to run for president. Under Guatemalan law, direct relatives of the current president are prohibited to succeed him in office. Although several courts have ruled that the divorce is a sham and Torres is ineligible to run, she continues to campaign. Several thousand supporters recently protested in favor of her candidacy.

Analysis

Despite the legal obstacles, Torres appears determined to stand for election in six weeks. If she is prohibited from appearing on the ballot, supporters may resort to violence to support her. If Torres is allowed to run, it will demonstrate the malleability of Guatemalan law.

Lisa M. Ruth is a former CIA analyst and officer. She is currently Managing Partner of C2 Research, a boutique research and analysis firm in West Palm Beach, Florida and is Vice President at CTC International Group, Inc., a private intelligence firm.

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Analysis: Guatemalan Gen Likely President
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2011-14-29
Friday, 29 Jul 2011 10:14 AM
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