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Guatemala Has Matured as a Nation

By: Carlos Sabino - @Sabino2324 - Sep 11, 2015, 2:47 pm
Guatemalans did not back down from the challenge of reforming their democracy.
Guatemalans did not back down from the challenge of peacefully reforming their democracy. (El Heraldo)

EspañolGuatemala’s historic election has already radically altered the political arena. While the official results await confirmation, here are a few of my initial observations:

First, the people voted. They didn’t listen to the voices at either end of the political spectrum who wanted to appoint a transitional government made up of “enlightened” men to fix “the system.” Those who said “we don’t want an election under these conditions” also failed, as over 70 percent of the electorate made it out the polls, the largest turnout in Guatemala’s history.

Blank and invalid votes amounted to just 9 percent, and in the capital, Guatemala City, this figure reached a new low of 2.4 percent. Voters understood that they can no longer allow a few men to decide the country’s future, and took to the polls to change the system they so widely criticized.

Furthermore, the people voted responsibly, rejecting the populists Sandra Torres and Manuel Baldizón.

The latter suffered a humiliating defeat, despite spending millions, flying around in fancy helicopters, and arrogantly believing he had a claim to the presidency. Ultimately, Baldizón finished third, behind Torres, a candidate whose platform basically consisted of repeating her policy of handouts during her time as first lady (2008-2012).

Their poor showing, each only receiving about 19 percent, is a reflection of their ties to the same network of corruption that brought down President Otto Pérez Molina four days before the election.

The backlash against Pérez Molina no doubt affected Baldizón, who was a supporter of the president. His attempt to buy farmers’ votes with handouts proved to be fruitless, and it demonstrates that there is no such thing as “two Guatemalas,” one that is urban and educated and another that is rural and stuck in the past. In truth, there is a single country that is hungry for change.

In the end, Jimmy Morales emerged victorious, signifying voters’ desire for an outsider. Even though he only received 24 percent of the vote, he stands a good change of defeating Torres in the runoff.

It should be noted that the socialists, the heirs of the guerrilla, managed to secure the support of just 2 percent of the electorate.

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The political landscape is shifting in Guatemala, as the country prepares for the runoff scheduled for October 25. Socialist groups who have barely had the time to absorb their defeat will look to pressure President Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre to usher in changes before the new government takes office in January.

However, the same movement that put Pérez Molina on trial and forced him to resign will likely prevent the government from ignoring popular will and enacting any changes that voters have not yet approved. Guatemalans will no longer allow their own destinies to be decided for them.

Guatemala has changed, and given the maturity that the country has shown, it has become a beacon for the rest of Latin America that yearns to end corruption, uncontrolled public spending, and rampant populism.

Translated by Adam Dubove.

Carlos Sabino Carlos Sabino

Sociologist, writer, and university professor, Sabino is director of the masters and doctoral programs in history at the University of Francisco Marroquín, Guatemala. Follow him @Sabino2324