THE LOUD PARADE TO ELECTED VIOLENCE: Guatemala, and the Voting-in of a Strong Man General
[From: emilie smith, email@example.com, September 12, 2011. Dear Friends, I wrote this on Friday morning. This morning we are picking up the pieces and figuring out what to do now ...]
I put the Tallis Scholars on full volume, and it half-blanks out the delirious, happy march of death, that's going on non-stop just two blocks away, in the Parque Central of Santa Cruz del Quiché.
My colleague, don Juan, an esteemed aj'ki'j, or Maya priest, celebrates his burning ceremony in our courtyard, seemingly oblivious to both my music, and the counter pounding bass, the drums, the patriotic shouts and the firecrackers coming from the rally.
We are two days away from the end of the world as we knew it, here in Guatemala, and as we've known it, its always been really bad. Now things are about to get worse.
Elections on Sunday, the disaster day of September 11th, promise to bring into office a General, one of the old boys, from the horror days of the war and genocide.
A VERY UGLY PICTURE
General Otto Perez Molina - Comandante Tito, as he was known in the early eighties, directing operations in the butchering fields of the [Maya] Ixil communities 3 hours north of here - stands at about 42 per cent in the latest polls to win the presidency. Perez Molina is the founder of the Patriotic Party, and his sneering face on billboards, huge and small, the PP symbol of the fighting Iron Fist, their pumpkin-orange flags and banners, and frenetic pounding music are ubiquitous throughout the country, and especially here where I live, in the Maya highlands, the very land where the genocide occurred. (It was determined by the UN truth commission's report, Memory of Silence, 1999, that 250,000 people died during the 36-year war and genocide, and that fully 93 per cent of these deaths were perpetrated by state security forces, principally the army.)
Perez Molina has a both a shady past, linking him to some of these atrocities, and questionable associations with the obscure powers that operate throughout Central America and Mexico. The Washington Office on Latin America, names him as a founder of El Sindicato (the Union), an association of Military Academy graduates from the same year (1973) who at one time made up one of five "hidden power"groups controlling organized crime in the country. According to declassified U.S. National Security Archive documents, many Sindicato associates have been directly linked to the drug trade.
Perez Molina himself states on the PP website that he graduated as a top student from the military school. His career was just beginning. His resume includes: commander of the Gumarkaj Task Force in the genocide zone of the Ixil triangle, during the time when more than 20 massacres occurred; one of the founders of the elite Guatemalan "kaibil" fighting force, directly linked to the worst violence during the war, and now filling the ranks of the drug cartel, Los Zetas, responsible for much of the extreme violence along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico.
(On May 15 of this year, 27 farm workers, including two women and two youth, were murdered and decapitated in Peten, Guatemala. It was part of the drug war. The only ones capable of such extreme acts of violence are the kaibil-trained Zetas.)
Between 1991-1994, Perez Molina was the head of the G-2, the Military Intelligence Unit of the Guatemalan army, and from 1993-1996, he was the director of the Presidential General Staff, the EMP, which operates similar to the US Secret Service, offering security to the President, and also engaging in military intelligence, and clandestine operations.
These two institutions were the principle organizers and architects of a vast apparatus of torture, disappearance and political assassination. The EMP was directly tied in the death of crusading human rights bishop, Juan Jose Gerardi, murdered in 1998, three days after handing in the church's investigation into the war and genocide.
Also, during these years Perez Molina, and Sindicato associates, were implicated in various embezzlement and money laundering schemes, including a high scandal case related to the capture of Sinaloa drug cartel leader Joachin "El Chapo" Guzman. (Guzman later made a spectacular escape, from prison in Mexico, and is still at large. Forbes names him as the Number One on its Most Wanted list, now that Bin Laden is dead.)
After the June 1993 arrest of Guzman in Guatemala, Q23 million quetzals (approximately $3 million, Canadian) and a fleet of luxury vehicles mysteriously went missing. Perez Molina was at the time the head of the EMP.
It also became known some time later, during the presidency of Oscar Berger, that Perez Molina attempted - unsuccessfully - to have his friend, Giovanni Mendoza, drug cartel leader in eastern Guatemala, appointed as a government official.
* * *
This adds up to a very ugly picture. But Sunday's elections will be fair and open; the military aren't storming into power, guns a-blazing as they did in this country, right from the CIA-sponsored coup in 1954, and for more than thirty years thereafter.
Perez Molina will drag into office his checkered baggage from the past, not hiding it, but in fact celebrating it - at least selected parts of the story. He will be claiming that what Guatemala needs, during these days of continued great violence, is an even stronger arm, and an Iron Fist, a bigger gun that will crush all lesser violence. Many, many agree.
From what I can tell, all around me here in the Quiché, the Patriotic Party is wildly popular. I have a pal, Juan Carlos, a shoeshine boy who comes into the city from a nearby village. "Who are you going for," he asked me. "No one," I said. "They're all skunks." "I'm pure Patriotic," he said smiling widely, and showing me the tell-tale orange sticker on the side of his shoeshine box. Orange is everywhere, coming out of people's mouths, and in places I wouldn't expect. But why on earth? It seems so counter-intuitive to elect a military man, when the country is at last, breaking free from them -- or are they?
Mostly, people are afraid. Guatemala consistently lands in the highest hemispheric statistics for violence. Bus drivers get shot, every single day. Most businesses, large and small, are paying exorbitant protection fees to teenaged extortionists. The prosecution and conviction rate for the average 6500 murders a year, in this country of 14 million, is in the single digit percentages. You want to murder someone and get away with it? Guatemala is the place to come. We are living in a failed state. People are looking for a strong man.
My friend Isabel, a community activist, says: "It's like a woman living in an abusive relationship. We all shake our heads when she goes back to him, after a beating. But she feels safer with the horror she knows."
The wild rally over in the parque shows no sign of winding down. People are excited; they want to be on the winning side, for once. Manipulative campaigns of disinformation, and deep forgetting, or confusion about the country's past and its violent legacy, all play a roll in why Comandante Tito stands to win on Sunday. So does deep set apathy. Nothing will ever really change, for the poor, I hear over and over again.
Opposition is weak, and one-sided. There are 10 candidates for the presidency, all but one from the right, or the extreme right. Second in the polls, after Perez Molina, is Manuel Baldizon, whose sinister toothy grin has been haunting us all year - his party's lead campaign promise: the implementation of the death penalty.
The candidate who may have had a chance against the PP was Sandra Torres, the current president's wife - well ex-wife actually. In a cynical move to override a constitutional rule where family members of sitting presidents may not immediately run for office, Torres divorced President Colom in March. Widely spurned by much of the public for her manipulative maneuverings, the constitutional court also rejected her application to stand as candidate, leaving a wide vacuum.
Progressives, after years of divisive bickering, and disappointing results at the polls, have come together, in the Broad Coalition of the Left, and have posted as presidential candidate the capable Rigoberta Menchu, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate of 1992. The Broad Coalition is putting on a good fight, and while there is no chance what-so-ever at the national level, there is lots of hope that small battles can be won across the country, in races for the congress, and, most of all, for mayor (In Guatemala, in a special kind of madness, ALL political offices are voted on and change on the same day.)
In August, I made visits, with various groups of Canadians, to different communities in rural Guatemala, to Cunen, and Zacualpa, in the department of El Quiché, and to Quixayá, and San Lucas Tolimán, in the department of Sololá, around the lovely blue Lake Atitlán. In Cunen, we roared around with Osmundo, waving flags with stalks of corn hand-painted on them. In Zacualpa, we met with doña Katerina, and a couple of hundred furious citizens, and we heard, over and over again, about the corruption and abuse of the current mayor. Maybe, just maybe, these two might win the race for mayor.
Down on the lake, things are stirring all around, and years of steady, honest community-building by groups like the Campesino Committee for the Highlands (CCDA) are starting to bring in a harvest. Maybe not this round . . . but people are organizing, as they haven't since the silencing and the horror of the genocide.
Now it is evening, the rally has shut down. The rules are that 36 hours before the election begins, all campaigning has to end. It had started to pour anyway, in the afternoon, with the season's daily deluge. I hear that Tropical Storm Nate is blowing wild up north in Mexico. Evil thoughts flood my mind, maybe the whole election could just get washed away. But no. On Monday morning, Guatemala is going to wake up orange. There are going to be four more years of lying, stealing and violence begetting greater violence.
In the courtyard don Juan attends to another family, now that the rains to have come and gone, and they have their sacred fire. Guatemala is nothing if not a land of survivors. The original Spanish invasion, the 1871 German coffee invasion and the massive theft of communal land, the gringos and their railroads, and their bananas, then the CIA invasion in 1954, leading to the war, and then the genocide.
Canadian mining companies raping and pillaging across the land. But still, here they are, the Maya majority. Finding a way, in every generation for the preservation of identity. Don Juan counts, and prays in the courtyard. The flame roars - a brighter shade of orange.
General Otto Perez Molina, 31.13%. In Guatemala, if no one comes out with more than 50%, they go to a second round. On November 6th, Perez Molina and Baldizon will face off.
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