By Max Santa Cruz, 2008 Americas Project fellow from Guatemala
Even for expert political analysts, it was very difficult to imagine or predict the whirlwind of events that would take place in Guatemala. In just five months, the relentless pressure from citizens broke the network of a criminal organization that has co-opted the highest levels of the government, causing the downfall of the party in power (Patriota Party) and initiating a movement of rejection and dissatisfaction with the asphyxiating corruption of the state and the political class. All of which occurred in the midst of an electoral process.
Recently, the Guatemalan people have begun to understand and embrace the valuable exercise of citizenship. The people's voice, along with the institutional support of the Attorney General's Office and firm convictions about fulfilling the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), successfully pushed for the arrests of former President Otto Pérez Molina, former Vice President Roxana Baldetti and other top-level officials, all of whom have been charged and prosecuted for being part of a criminal tax fraud scheme. Judges and magistrates who marred the courts and contributed to the corruption of state resources, among other illegal acts, have also been arrested and prosecuted.
Such figures were part of a perverse system that had been defended and protected by individuals from the traditional political class and other segments of society for the past 40 years. Everything seemed to be consolidated and arranged between the party in power — the Patriota Party — and the “opposition” party, Libertad Democrática Renovadora (LIDER), without disruption and in an atypical electoral process plagued by questions, impunity and constant violations of the applicable law.
In that respect, the heir apparent to the leadership and continuity of that twisted system was LIDER party candidate Manuel Baldizón, who, along with his running mate, Edgar Barquín (subsequently accused of money laundering), proclaimed themselves as certain winners in the electoral process.
However, in this awakening of the people, the message against Baldizón's political agenda was loud and clear: an unprecedented "no" vote at the national level.
Some 70 percent of the electorate turned out to vote — a historical record — and dropped Baldizón to third place in the popular vote, knocking him off the ballot for the Oct. 25 election. This would have been unimaginable just months earlier.
The battle for the presidency in 2016 will be fought between Jimmy Morales of the Frente de Convergencia Nacional (FCN-Nación) and Sandra Torres of the Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE) party.
Without a doubt, these first steps in exercising citizenship in this "Guatemalan Spring" made it possible, within a constitutional framework, for Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre to be elected first as vice president, replacing Baldetti, and subsequently succeed Pérez Molina as president. Similarly, Juan Alberto Fuentes Soria is the new vice president, who along with Maldonado Aguirre will finish out the current administration's term until Jan. 14, 2016.
The challenges facing Guatemala remain enormous. In the short term, Guatemala requires the consolidation of a strong state and a political-social pact based not only on holding new elections, but also grounded in laws that promote institutional strengthening and an effective response to its citizens' most heartfelt demands, in a context of freedom, justice and inclusion.
The great challenge begins today, and in building our future we must permanently banish apathy and indifference from the hearts of all Guatemalans so that we will never return to the darkness of the past. As was often said in the plaza and in the streets: “They’ve stolen so much from us that they even stole our fear.”
Voices of the Americas is a space for Americas Project fellows to share their insights into events unfolding in their home countries and in the region as a whole. The fellows' essays will also focus on economic development, institution building, democracy and the rule of law.