Monday, August 17, 2009

The writing is on the wall: Guatemalan politics

Some people may have forgotten that what recently happened to the president of Honduras almost happened to Alvaro Colom, the president of Guatemala, just a little while before. His party is the UNE, and he is generally thought of as a moderate leftist. It is important to remember that the rule of law is not very stable in Guatemala. There are "parallel powers"that constantly challenge the authority of an apparently democratic state. These parallel powers are mostly formerly semi-official armed groups, narco-trafficking organizations, and business-owning families.

These guys made it easy for us: they got a logo that plainly suggests their fascist tendencies. Arturo Perez-Molina, the leader of the PP, or Partido Patriota is a war criminal. The PP's slogan was changed to Mano Dura for the presidential elections last year. Weirdly, the guy who designed their campaign had just designed a campaign in Honduras, for another right-wing bully, that was called Pugno duro (hard fist). After the Pugno Duro campaign failed in Honduras, a wave of executions of bus drivers in the capital was used to try and destabilize the legitimate government. After the Mano Dura campaign failed in Guatemala, a wave of executions of bus drivers in the capital was used to try and destabilize the legitimate government. Sounds weird? When Alvaro Colom pointed it out publicly, the executions slowed way down, as if by magic... We may never know what really went on at the time, since Guatemala is one place where conspiracies are the norm, not the exception.

The FRG, or Frente Revolucionario Guatemalteco, is led by Rios Montt - Reagan's good buddy and an all-out genocidal maniac when he was dictator in the early eighties. His party distinguished himself by spitting on and insulting the Nobel Prize-winner Rigoberta Menchu inside the constitutional court! Wait! Isn't that bad enough? He actually didn't like it when the constitutional court ruled against his application for the presidency on the grounds that in Guatemala one can only be president for one term. His justification: he was never elected president; he was merely a dictator! So in 2003 he got a few battalions' worth of thugs together (not really thugs, in fact they were former paramilitaries), surrounded the constitutional court, and they changed their mind.

Is this depressing? Try watching your kids starve to death and join gangs. Try having your relatives abducted or executed, while the police cannot or will not do anything about it because they are too weak or are implicated in the first place. Guatemala is a relatively rich country, but it is on the verge of being a failed state. A Honduras-style coup is easily imagined there, and would instantly throw everything back a decade or so, to the times of the peace accords. The only people that wouldn't hurt would be the rich, and yet again the poor would pay. The revolutionary groups (the real revolutionary groups, not the FRG) don't have a clear leader. Even Rigoberta Menchu doesn't stand a very good chance at the polls.

Before any significant positive change is possible in Guatemala, the state needs to raise taxes (they are ridiculously low right now), and bring some of the GDP to the majority of Guatemalans whose only options are misery, emigration, and crime.

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