Guatemala Elections: Alvaro Colom, Foreign Policy and “Useful Moderates”
Hopefully, Guatemalans will say no in the coming runoff election to a potential ally of Chavez, rejecting his demagogic promises.
1. On November 4, Guatemala will be holding the second round of its presidential elections. The front runners are Alvaro Colom from the center-left Unión Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE or National Union of Hope) and the retired Gen. Otto Pérez Molina from the Unión Patriota (UP, Patriot Union), who defines himself as on the “progressive right.”
2. In Latin America, Venezuelan President Chavez is imposing his radically leftist positions on several countries in the region, encouraged by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. For example, Chavez has begun to mediate negotiations between the Colombian government and narco-guerrillas in a move that could favor the latter. In this context, it is important to know the position of Guatemala’s presidential candidates on these delicate issues.
3. As far as foreign policy is concerned, Colom has avoided identifying himself with Chavez. He evidently is mindful of the experience of presidential candidates such as Lopez Obrador of Mexico, and Ollanta Humala of Peru, where their support of the Venezuelan president decisively contributed to their defeat, Nevertheless, Colom has already said that if he wins the elections he will push for “normal” relations with Venezuela and Cuba. Thus, it is unlikely he would become a regional obstacle to the regional ambitions of the populist government of Caracas or its Cuban ally, the communist regime in Havana.
4. In another front, Colom has praised Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and made a public show of his solidarity with him. Thus, it is possible that Colom may take the same temporizing attitude of “useful moderate” toward Hugo Chavez as was adopted by the Brazilian leader. Lula’s temporizing attitude toward Chavez has helped neutralize wholesome anti-Chavez reactions and paves the way for centrist sectors of opinion to slide smoothly toward new forms of socialism and populism.
The position adopted by Perez Molina toward Chavez appears to be more distant and with greater reservations.
5. Regarding the domestic policies of the two Guatemalan candidates, it is interesting to highlight some of their campaign promises.
UNE’s Alvaro Colom obtained 28% of the vote by making far-fetched demagogic proposals supposedly to defend the poor. His party is fragmented and many of its more important members have been accused of corruption and of favoring drug traffickers.
UP’s retired general Otto Perez Molina, who defines himself as being on the “progressive right,” obtained just over 24% of the vote by promising jobs and security to a population fed up with crime and the so-called maras or youth gangs that are gaining control of whole areas of the country.
6. Finally, an analysis of the center and rightist candidates in the first round of the elections reveals that Guatemalans, even though their vote was fragmented among several candidates, reject the positions of the radical left.
Alejandro Giammattei from the pro-government GANA alliance obtained 17% of the vote. Observers believe that in the runoff election most of his voters will cast their ballots for Otto Perez Molina considering him a lesser evil.
Eduardo Suger, a professor of the center-right, obtained 7% of the vote. His supporters are also expected to lend their support to Otto Perez Molina.
For her part, Rigoberta Menchu, 1992 Nobel Peace Prize winner, ran as a candidate representing several leftist parties who support Chavez and Dictator Castro. She has actively participated in several meetings of the leftist World Social Forum. She obtained only 3% of the vote which was a stinging failure for the radically leftist candidate and thus confirming the impression of many Guatemalans that Mrs. Menchu is a media “icon” of the international left with negligible support in her own country.
7. Guatemalans suffered for many years from the violent action of pro-Castro guerrillas who engulfed the country in a virtual civil war. However, they fought back and became a valuable example of resistance not only for Central America but also for neighboring Mexico and all Latin America. Hopefully, in the second round of their presidential elections, Guatemalans will say no to a potential ally of Chavez and reject his demagogic promises, keeping away from their presidency a “useful moderate” at the service of the radical left.