Climate of fear surrounds presidential elections

On 4 November, presidential elections in Guatemala resulted in victory for Alvaro Colom, an ex-businessman and Mayan priest. His success in the second round came after he courted votes from the ruling coalition Gran Alianza Nacional as well as former militiamen of the paramilitary Patrullas de Autodefensas Civil. This enabled him to defeat Otto Perez Molina, ex-general and former head of military intelligence who had led in the first round of voting at the beginning of September.

Molina has been accused of atrocities during a hideous 36-year-long civil war which resulted in the deaths of 250,000 people during the late 1970s and early 1980s. The indigenous Mayans were butchered in their tens of thousands in a campaign led by General Jose Efrain Rios Montt (who was also head of state in 1982-83) and his paramilitary allies. Thousands of socialists, workers, indigenous leaders and human rights supporters were slaughtered as US imperialism backed the local ruling class to the hilt, with Israel sending arms and advisers.

Whilst the civil war formally ended in 1996 with ‘peace’ accords between the government and the Guatemalan Revolutionary Unity, the terror continues. In 2006, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions stated ‘There are now more killings per day than there were during the dark days of the civil conflict...Official estimates of some 6,000 extra-judicial executions per year certainly understate the real death toll’.

The violence continued through the elections, with 24 local politicians and 26 supporters murdered in the first round. Molina’s Partido Patriota (PP), won most Congressional seats by calling for ‘a hard hand’, pledging to increase the size of the police force by 50% and revive the death penalty, with Colom’s ‘centre-left’ coalition Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza coming second. Rigoberta Menchu, the indigenous leader who received a Nobel peace prize-winner for her protests against human rights abuses in the 1980s, got only 3% of first round votes.

The two leading parties were warned against violent election tactics by the OAS, itself anxious to see political stability – or as The Economist cynically put it ‘something more sophisticated than mere repression’ (10 November 2007). Businessmen now lead the push for accumulation, as the most violent tasks of crushing the resistance to its agenda is for the moment complete.

Workers driven from Guatemala by the long terror will this year send home remittances that outstrip export values. In 2006 they were $3.61bn, and are expected to exceed $4bn in 2007. 97% of these remittances come from the 1.2 million Guatemalans living in the US, of which 60% live a cowed existence as ‘illegals’. The Guatemalan rich refuse to pay tax, so that the 10% of GDP that the state raises is well below the Latin American average. The UN’s 2006 Human Development Index placed Guatemala last in Spanish-speaking Latin America, below Honduras and Bolivia. It has some of the highest rates of malnutrition and poverty of any country in the western hemisphere.

The official post-war Truth Commission is constantly threatened anonymously – by spies, informers, government officials and clandestine death squads – for its work on secret police archives discovered in 2005. In 1999 the Commission stated that government forces and its paramilitary were responsible for over 90% of the killings in the civil war. The Roman Catholic Church reported similar figures in 1998 and two days later Bishop Juan Gerardi was murdered for issuing the report. The triumph of reaction in Guatemala is another bloody stain in the history of US imperialism, and satisfies the vile political instinct of Washington.

Alvaro Michaels

FRFI 200 December 2007 / January 2008