Monday, September 12, 2011

Guatemalan Elections Go to Run-off, Perez Likely Winner

With 57 percent of votes counted, Guatemalan presidential candidate Otto Perez Molina of the Patriotic Party leads in the polls with 32 percent support. He is followed by Manuel Baldizon (LIDER) with 19.7 percent and Eduardo Suger (CREO) with 15.2 percent. The rest of the votes were shared among seven other minor candidates. Barring any major twists, it looks as if Perez and Baldizon will be squaring off in the November 5th runoff election.

In U.S. media outlets like the New York Times and the AP, the main narrative leading up to the elections has been that the current president, Alvaro Colom, has not done enough to crack down on the growth of organized crime in the country, thus prompting voters to favor Perez and Baldizon, who are both running on “mano dura” platforms. From the AP:
Alvaro Velasquez, of the Central American Institute of Political Studies, said people are disenchanted with politics as a result of the Colom government, which promised to quell the violence with social programs.
"They expected the government of Colom to be the transformation, but he didn't even try to be strong," Velasquez said.
However, as Dr. Michael Allison of Central American Politics points out, this ignores the fact that murder rates have actually been declining over the past two years. While this does not mean that the overall crime rate is down, it does suggest that other factors -like the country’s 51 percent poverty rate-played a factor in the elections.

Selected Stories

  • The Washington Post reports that an attempt by New Mexico governor Bill Richardson to broker the release of Alan Gross, the U.S. government contractor jailed in Havana on espionage charges, has failed. According to Richardson, Cuban officials even barred him from visiting the prisoner, despite the fact that Gross has received a number of visits by U.S. diplomats and politicians. Gross has been jailed since 2009, and was sentenced to 15 years in prison in March.
  • The AP highlights Venezuela’s murder rate and rising insecurity, with a focus on how hospitals have been affected by the violence. As the article notes, in 2010 Venezuela's homicide rate was twice that of Mexico, with the Venezuelan Violence Observatory claiming that there were 17,600 homicides last year. 
  • Sabino Montanaro, known as the “cruel right hand” of former Paraguayan dictator Alfredo Stroessner, died on Saturday night in Asuncion. He had been serving a sentence in house arrest for his role in killing opposition leaders in the 1970s and '80s.
  • Arturo L√≥pez Levy offers some in-depth analysis over at Latin America News Dispatch of what the death of Cuban Defense Minister Julio Casas means for the country’s military. The military, like many other institutions in the country, has the potential to change significantly as the older members of the revolutionary generation die off.
  • USA Today conducted an in-depth analysis of crime Texas, California, Arizona and New Mexico, which found that "violent crime rates were on average lower in cities within 30, 50 and 100 miles of the border — the distances used to fit various definitions of the 'border region.'" This means that the oft-mentioned pattern of “spillover violence” is greatly exaggerated, despite recent claims to the contrary by Texas Governor Rick Perry.
  • Honduran Security Minister Oscar Alvarez resigned on Saturday in a rather confrontational manner. According to the AP, Alvarez claimed he “lacked economic support for his efforts and had been stepping on the toes of powerful interests.La Tribuna reports that the main source of opposition to Alvarez was the leadership of the National Police, who allegedly forcing President Porfirio Lobo between themselves or Minister Alvarez. Alvarez has been attracting a significant amount of political attention lately, and has emerged as a potential presidential candidate for the National Party in 2013, so his removal could also have been an attempt to refocus media attention on the Lobo administration.