Thursday, November 24, 2011

Otto Pérez Molina - President-elect of Guatemala

Otto Pérez Molina (Partido Patriota) won the 2011 presidential elections in Guatemala with 53.74% of the votes and voter turnout 60.83% in the second round. He beat Manuel Baldizón (Libertad Democrática Renovada, LIDER, a centrist political party founded in 2010), who got a 46.26% of the votes. Security, combating violence, impunity and social programs played an important role in the campaigns. To be able to interpret the new situation in Guatemala we have to look at Guatemala's history and study the past of Otto Pérez Molina...

Causes of Violence in Guatemala 
Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized Operation PBSUCCESS, the overthrow of Guatemala's democratic government in 1953-1954
Dwight D. Eisenhower authorized
The main cause of the ongoing violence in Guatemala is the aftermath of the civil war 1960-1995, which was initiated by US and CIA interference in 1953-1954. The military regimes in Guatemala after the 1954 coup and during the civil war were heavily supported by the US. During the civil war, the Guatemala military used the system of lynching of insurgents or suspects of being insurgents in the home town squares of the insurgents. They forced the people of the villages to participate in the killing and beating of the members of their own community, including family members of the insurgent or suspected insurgent and the priests. Also mass rape was used as a weapon of war during the armed conflict.

The UN sponsored Guatemala's Truth and Reconciliation committee (TRC) named the Historical Clarification Commission (Comisión para el Esclarecimiento Histórico, or CEH). CEH presented its report "Guatemala: Memoria del Silencio" in 1999. It had a series of recommendations for the government of which an important one was to establish a "Peace and Harmony Foundation" (Fundación por la Paz y la Concordia), which only task it would be to monitor and guard the fulfillment of the commission's recommendations. Sadly the foundation was never established and most recommendations were never followed up. Crimes of genocide, torture and forced disappearance were not prosecuted, so a lot of resentment and old killing habits remained under the population. Few trials were held though. But trials of Guatemalan militaries like for the murder on bishop Gerardi and the murder on Myrna Mack, were accompanied by threats and attacks against judges, prosecutors, and witnesses, with some killed and others forced into exile. Widespread impunity has become institutionalized and that impunity in itself became a huge booster of violence. Relatives of victims taking the law into their own hands and arrested murderers that were not prosecuted and send home taking revenge on the Police informers, increased the homicide rate severely. The actual prosecution rate for homicide sits at 2 to 3 percent. Today, the number of assassinations per day in Guatemala exceeds the number during the civil war. Also because the civil war had ended in 1995, the US began to send back Guatemalans that had fled their home country. Especially gang-members and other criminals were extradited. Guatemala had a huge influx of English speaking criminals and gang-members who didn't had a job. So lots of new gangs were established and extortion, kidnappings, robberies and drug trades began to flourish. The Mexican Los Zetas cartel, known as the most violent drug cartel to the DEA, got a strong foothold in Guatemala and it is known that it works together with Guatemalan special army forces, Brigada de Fuerzas Especiales "Kaibil".

Pérez and his role during the Civil war 
Jennifer Harbury holding a photograph of her tortured and disappeared husband Efraín Bámaca Velásquez of which Pérez Molina was responsible
Jennifer Harbury
holding Efraín Bámaca Velásquez
As an army captain/mayor Pérez was on the ground and in command in the Ixil triangle in 1982 during the village-by-village massacre campaign, and he was directly responsible for the long term torture and disappearance of prisoner of war Efrain Bámaca Velasquez. According to the 1999 CEH report, "Memoria de Silencio", the army carried out daily acts of torture, genocide and terror in the Ixil region, and razed between 70 and 90% of the villages there. In July 2011, Guatemalan indigenous organization Waqib Kej presented a letter to the United Nations accusing Pérez of genocide and torture allegedly committed in Quiché in 1982. Among other evidence, they cited a 1982 documentary in which a military officer whom they claim is Perez Molina is seen near 4 dead bodies, allegedly tortured prisoners. During his time in the army, Pérez served as director of military intelligence (known as D-2 or G-2) from 2nd Jan.'92 until 10th Jul.'93. The role that Guatemalan presidential candidate ex-General Otto Pérez Molina played as director of D-2 in the commission of genocide, torture and disappearances in Guatemala during the worst years of State repression and terrorism in the 1980s was undoubtedly important. Frankly, it is hard to believe that a man as powerful as Peréz wasn't involved, knew nothing or did nothing as it relates to the atrocities committed against indigenous Guatemalans from 1960 to 1996. The Guatemalan Military Intelligence system became the force with which it exercised totalitarian control of the town and country populaces, the urban society, the State, and the armed forces, themselves; dictatorship was total, but subtle. Pérez also represented the military in the negotiations that led to the 1996 Peace Accords, putting an end to Guatemala's 30-year-long Civil War. He arranged broad amnesties for the Guatemalan army. As a delegate of the Comision de Paz Pérez also achieved that the CEH was prohibited from naming names or preparing cases for prosecution. Therefore  the Catholic Church organized its own Recovery of Historical Memory (REHMI) commission. Led by Bishop Juan Gerardi, REMHI delivered its report “Guatemala: Nunca Más” in April 1998.
Bishop Juan Gerardi bludgeoned to death under responsibility of Pérez Molina
Bishop Juan Gerardi
Two days later Gerardi was bludgeoned to death in his garage. There is very strong evidence that Pérez was strongly involved in that murder. He was seen near the crime scene at the time of the murder. Not as the murderer, but as a monitor and the man who commissioned the murder. Pérez denied all allegations with lies or wit non-convincing arguments. No Guatemalan prosecutor has been successful in bringing him for trial yet, because he has been a member of congress since 2003 and enjoyed parliamentary immunity. Pérez has lots of enemies in Guatemala. On 11 November 2000, Pérez' son, Otto Pérez Leal, was attacked by gunmen while driving with his wife and infant daughter. On 21 February 2001, three days before Pérez was scheduled to launch his new political party, masked gunmen attacked and wounded his daughter Lissette.

Pérez and the Partido Patriota 
Otto Pérez Molina with clenched fist 'Mano Dura'
Otto Pérez Molina with "Mano Dura"
Pérez resigned from the Guatemalan army in 2000. On 24 February 2001, he founded the Partido Patriota (Patriotic Party) a right wing political party. He was the candidate of the Partido Patriota in the 2007 presidential election, campaigning under the slogan "Mano dura, Cabeza y Corazón" ("Firm hand, head and heart"), advocating a hard-line approach to rising criminality in the country. The logo of the PP is a clenched fist and Pérez often shows in public his clenched fist. In 2007 Perez was placed second in the presidential race with 23.5% of the vote. Álvaro Colom candidate of the Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza or UNE a social-democratic and social-Christian party, won the 2007 elections. During the 2007 presidential campaign, several members of the Patriotic Party were killed by armed assailants, including a 33-year-old indigenous woman, Aura Marina Salazar Cutzal, who was secretary to the party's congressional delegation and assistant to Pérez. In 2011 Pérez ran again and won with 53.74% of the votes.
Homicide rates in Central-America
Central America - Homicide Statistics
(Data UNODC)
While security has been an important issue during the campaigns of the PP and the LIDER, PP did a better job in promoting its program. What was not discussed in public was that Guatemala's homicide rate actually decreased during Colom's (UNE) presidency, while this increased 30% during Berger's (PP) presidency (2003-2007). The danger of a Peréz presidency, and suspicion of many, is that he will roll back human rights and civil liberties once he gets into office. Fixing Guatemala’s security problems is not going to be easy. And it is unclear whether the man’s current strategy is even practicable. Trying attempts at police reform and getting the military more involved are not exactly proven recipes for success. Just take a look at what has happened in Mexico since Felipe Calderón took office.

Pérez wouldn't be the first criminal who became president. Portillo, who shot and killed two students in 1980 in Mexico and got away with it, served as a president from 2000-2004, was accused of embezzlement after his term and extradited from Mexico for it, but miraculously absolved by the Guatemalan court in 2011. Portillo was arrested again (thanks to CICIG (UN)) for money laundering and will be extradited to the US hopefully soon.

Pérez' Government Program
Mano Dura, the logo of Pérez Molina's party Partido Patriota
Logo Partido Patriota Guatemala
Partido Patriota's program "Agenda del Cambio" consists of five principles and looks like  LIDER's program that has 5 similar pillars. The first (and most important) principle is "Democratic Security and Justice" and has elements of the 2007 "Mano dura, Cabeza y Corazón" program: Increasing the number of troops, Police officers, Intelligence officers, prison facilities and so on. The other four principles are: 2. Competitive economic development, 3. Productive infrastructure and social infrastructure, 4. Social Development and 5. Sustainable Rural Development.

PP's program will focus on reducing poverty, through the continuity of social programs and lowering the rate of unemployment through public-private partnerships and attracting foreign investment. To reduce the unemployment rate in Guatemala, domestic institutional strengthening is supposed to attract more foreign investment and boost export. More employment will be generated through public-private partnerships and promoting a bill to expand economic Free Zones. Also the PP government plans to increase and modernize the country's transportation infrastructure, roads and bridges will be built and repaired, highways close to ports and border crossings will be expanded to four lanes. The plan also contains many social programs. It's not that the program is objectionable in itself, on the contrary it's got all the right elements! It's more the fact that it will cost ten times the national budget every year to realize it all. Unfortunately the Partido Patriota is not telling us at all how it is going to finance its plan without a huge tax reform. So it's obvious that only few elements will be realized the next four years and these will probably be elements from PP's Principle one.

The central government’s spending is just 13.7% of GDP, the lowest in Latin America. Right now it’s hard for even the Colom government to spend any more than it currently does on social programs because it does such a poor job of collecting taxes. This is an enormous challenge and should perhaps sit at the top of any reform agenda. During his term Colom has failed to build enough support in Guatemala's unruly and fragmented legislature to pass much-needed tax reforms. Colom's lack of influence in congress and the continued strength of the powerful private sector (Partido Patriota!) prevented him to succeed. The private sector will most likely not accept any meaningful tax reform. For the last decade, they have defeated almost every attempt.

What is needed in my view, is setting priorities first. A long term program that focuses primarily on combating impunity and poverty and stimulating education, financed with huge tax reforms is required most. All the rest will follow almost by itself in time.

Elections 2011 
40 deaths have been attributed to electoral violence in 2011. OAS observers said that the second presidential round was held in general terms without major inconveniences. Nevertheless, during the November 6 elections there were "some difficulties, among which of most concern was the lack of security in some of the voting centers," an Argentine observer said. "The Mission also heard claims of electoral proselytism and vote buying by both political parties in the race, as well as complaints by citizens who received different types of death threats for exercising a role in the electoral process."


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