Thursday, August 09, 2007


Guatemalans are preparing to choose a new president on September 9th, in a climate marred by an increase in politically motivated violence.

Gunmen have attacked candidates and an activist for Nobel Peace Prize winner Rigoberta Menchu's political party three times in the last week in Guatemala's bloodiest election race since a civil war ended a decade ago.

Armed men attacked the house of a congressional candidate from Menchu's party on Tuesday, seriously injuring her two teen-age girls. Olga Lucas' 17-year-old daughter was hospitalized in intensive care, said Armando Sanchez, another congressional hopeful from the Encuentro Por Guatemala Party, which is running Menchu for president. Lucas' other daughter, aged 20, suffered minor injuries.

In another shooting on the same day, three armed men fired at a former guerrilla commander, now an activist for Menchu, injuring his bodyguard and his mechanic.

"This was an assassination attempt," said Cesar Montes, a leader of the leftist insurgency during the country's 1960-1996 civil war. Montes said he shot back at his assailants.

So far, in the campaigning leading up to the elections on Sept. 9, the authorities have reported 61 violent attacks on candidates and political activists. The death toll stands at 26, including seven national congressmen and numerous other office seekers.

Much of the bloodletting has been attributed to right wing paramilitaries and narcotics traffickers and their allies. Political scientist Francisco Garcia says, "The violent paramilitary forces that fought during the war weren't disarmed ... They were just recycled and put to use by organized criminals."

Alvaro Colom's National Unity for Hope party, or UNE, which leads polls, has seen 18 of its candidates and party activists murdered in the campaign, including one congressman shot in front of party headquarters in April.

Colom says his party has been targeted because of his zero tolerance approach to organized crime gangs in the ranks.

However, rival candidates say Colom, running for president for the third time, let criminals infiltrate the party as he struggled for funds in the last election campaign in 2003. "Drug traffickers are embedded in the UNE," Menchu told Reuters. "They opened the doors to an ominous element."

But the politicians are the lesser worry as far as the killings go.

IPS reported early this year civilian violence was already costing Guatemala half its national budget, as well as countless human lives and social breakdown, while corruption and impunity walk hand in hand.

Among the main economic consequences of this violence are: more resources spent on health services, loss of social capital, legal costs, worker absenteeism, investment in private security and a decline in productivity.

The violence is having a devastating impact on Guatemala, which despite having the largest economy in Central America with a GDP of 32.6 billion dollars, is ranked 118th on the UNDP Human Development Index, below countries with lower per capita incomes such as Bolivia, Nicaragua and Honduras.

Meanwhile, Prensa Latina reports Maya Waqib Kej National Convergence, a coalition of 25 indigenous organizations, has ruled out giving electoral support to any of the traditonal parties.

"This stance does not mean a call to abstention, but to reflect on the vote so that it is granted to local groups that may benefit our peoples," said Domingo Hernandez, a leader of the movement.

He considered it a positive that indigenous people are candidates, including Nobel Peace Prize-winner Rigoberta Menchu, but criticized the programs of the major parties.

"It is important for our brothers and sisters to be able to vie for public posts, including the presidency of the Republic, but the parties nominating them have failed to include in their plans the most pressing needs of our communities," he noted.

The indigenous are not alone.

Lack of interest in the elections among young people, who represent 43 percent of the electoral register, reached 60 percent, according to a recent poll by the Vox Latina pollster.

Observers attribute that apathy to lack of leadership among the candidates, and of concrete proposals to solve the country's structural problems.

The following is from MISNA.


An endless string of attacks have been carried out since Sunday by unknown gunmen against members of the left-wing ‘Encuentro por Guatemala’ (EG) party of Nobel peace prize laureate Rigoberta Menchú Túm, who is running in the September 9 presidential election. The latest occurred yesterday, when unknown gunmen opened fire at the home of an EG female congress candidate, wounding her two daughters. “There have been so many attacks in the past days that I have not even had time to stop and think who is behind this”, commented Nineth Montenegro, founder of the indigenous political movement. The assault took place outside the residence of Olga Lucas, in a suburban neighbourhood of Guatemala City. The injured girls “are not in life threatening conditions”, said Arturo Higueros, communications representative of EG, adding: “It may have been a politically motivated attack, but also of ‘pandillas’ (juvenile criminal gangs) present in the neighbourhood”. In a still unclear incident on Tuesday, the former guerrilla commander César Montes, adviser of Menchú, escaped an armed attack in the capital, in which his bodyguard and a mechanic were wounded; on Sunday, the body of León Bravo, EG mayoral candidate in Santa Catarina, was found in the trunk of his car; while in May, Liberato Granados, mayoral candidate in Zacapa, was assassinated. According to the independent ‘Mirador Electoral’ organisation, it is the most violent election campaign of the past 20 years in Guatemala: since the start of the year there have been at least 50 acts of “political violence” in Guatemala with a toll of 36 dead and 16 wounded, much higher than that registered ahead of the 2003 election. On September 9 over 5.9-million Guatemalans are called to the polls to elect a president, a vice-president, 158 lawmakers and 322 communal administrators.

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