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Guatemala’s Political Underdogs Hit the Big Time!

Portada XW123 smallIf you’ve been in Guatemala for more than a couple of days, you’ve probably realised it’s an exciting time to be in the Land of the Mayas. While trying to survive the week long Quetzalteca-binge to celebrate Guatemalan Independence you might have caught that there is a tectonic shift happening in Guatemalan politics. As XelaWho’s hard-hitting journalists reported last month, ex-President Otto Perez Molina and his second-in-command Roxana Baldetti were brought down in the biggest corruption scandal in recent Guatemalan history, leaving a void open for a new political class in Guatemala.

The nation-wide protests against Molina under the banner #YoNoTengoPresidente (I don’t have a president) stirred 100,000s of Guatemalans to take to the streets and social media. This momentum has carried over into the recent elections in which several Underdogs fought against the odds (and cashed-up opponents) to be elected.

In the lead up to the presidential election, Manuel Baldizon – lawyer and well-documented corrupt strongman – bragged about being unbeatable but was taken down by Jimmy Morales, a former comedian who has donned blackface to get a laugh (photos on p29). By spending an incredible 54 million Quetzales ($7 million US), Baldizon and his party Lider blew past the spending cap imposed on political parties in the election to spend almost as much as all the other parties combined. Much of the cash was spent on buying votes by giving away free laminas (plastic roofing), chickens and mattresses in exchange for votes. Baldizon even went so far as to create a fake mirror website of Guatemala’s largest newspaper, Prensalibre, under a slightly different web address to pedal his propaganda against the other candidates.



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Rising from the ashes

It was hard to see anything positive coming out of the tragic fire that consumed 11 businesses in the Centro Historíco in June, causing millions in damage, leaving five people hospitalized with serious burns. But Xela is always one to surprise with its indefatigable community spirit: after the fire, local group Sacándole Brillo a Xela (SBX) commenced the beautifully named “Operación Fenix” (Operation Phoenix), during which they succeeded in fundraising a whopping Q60,000 from generous local residents, which they donated to the victims of the fire and to the Oficina del Centro Histórico to help with reconstruction efforts. The operation finished last month 60 posters that were distributed throughout the Centro Histórico advising local businesses how to prevent fires. Let´s hope they work.

XelaWho Exclusive: Otto Pérez, Baldetti undercover anti-corruption agents.

by Fathouse Productions

During the 2011 election cycle, Manuel Baldizón, who was considered the heavy favorite in the 2015 presidential election before tanking in September, promised that if he were elected, the Guatemalan national football team would qualify for the World Cup. But the electorate liked the anti-corruption promises of Otto Pérez Molina and his vice presidential candidate Roxana Baldetti better. They won the election, promising that Otto Pérez would be tough on crime and corruption and Baldetti would continue her anti-corruption investigations she had launched as a Congresswoman. They both recently resigned and have been put on trial for involvement in massive corruption scandals. But XelaWho is the first to report that their involvement was likely part of an undercover corruption investigation, given the promises they made on the campaign trail.

Who will win the run-off election?

by Diana Pastor

After the elections last month on September 6, much to everyone’s surprise, the candidate who was supposedly leading in the opinion polls and who considered himself, along with many others, as the virtual winner, was knocked out of the race for President of Guatemala. Instead of Manuel Baldizón,  Guatemalans elected Sandra Torres, the former wife of an ex-president whom she divorced last election season in 2011 so that she could participate in the political contest, and Jimmy Morales, a comedian with no previous experience in politics who became popular across the country for belonging to a “relatively new” party and being supported by some important sectors in the country (which I will explain in a moment). Want to know more about these candidates? Then read on!

Culture Strike in Xela this October

by Julio Urizar

This October, a huge public art and cultural festival is about to hit Xela. At Paro Cultural #17-0 or “Culture Strike #17”, artists, entrepreneurs, cultural contributors and community members will take over Xela in an interactive public festival of art and culture. Participants will occupy four areas around Xela with art, culture and fun activities  for the whole community.

The aim of Paro Cultural is to inundate Xela with culture and art to build cultural linkages between diverse members of Xela’s community. The event will also be a great chance to promote cultural expression among the people and groups that come down to participate in the activities. As there will be a range of groups, artists and types of artistic expression, artists will be able to express themselves freely and interact their art with participating organized groups and neighbours interested in cultural expression.

Recipe of the Month: Salsa de Durazno

by La Salsa Inglesa

It’s October, and here in Xela we are entering ‘la época del durazno’. Dulce y jugoso, these nutritious peaches are the perfect substitute for all you mango-lovers still mourning the end of mango season.

This raw peach salsa is bursting with vitamin goodness, flavor and just a little picante: the perfect combination to keep any health-conscious foodie récontento. So, aproveche la abundancia while it lasts because, as Otto Perez recently found out, all good things come to an end.

Grow Your Own: Farm Directory

by Juan Jardinero

For this month’s edition of Grow Your Own, we thought we´d write up a directory of different projects working in promoting organic agriculture and spreading the ideas and principles of permaculture in Guatemala.  In a country where a large percentage of the population still work in agriculture, the efforts of these projects, to not only create markets for organic products but also serve all living examples of how to grow food naturally is increasingly more important. Guatemala a rich country in natural resources, faces a crucial moment; mono crops and intense conventional agricultural practices have contaminated water sources and depleted nutrients in the soil, making the need to restore the wealth of the land a task we all should be a part of.
We are glad to say that these projects are doing their part and we hope you get a chance to visit and experience the beauty, diversity and abundance that Guatemala has to offer.

Trendy – Finger on the Pulse of Guatemala’s Social Media Buzz

September was a big month for Guatemala with every Chapin with a smart phone tweeting madly over everything from the nation-wide elections to the week of celebrations (read: hangovers) for Guatemala’s independence. As usual, we here at XelaWho are here to guide you through the best of what the internet has to offer.

The biggest story this month is the breath of fresh air coming into Guatemalan politics. After the revelations of massive corruption among the Partido Patriota leaders, the former-ruling party in Guatemala, Tweeters responded last month with the #YoNoTengoPresidente hashtag.   All the online outrage, activism and silly memes ended up having a noticeable effect at the polls. From the presidential elections down to our own local race for Xela’s mayor, this election season marked social media as a powerful force in Guatemalan politics. While Lider, the party favoured to win the presidential election, led the charge in spending the combined total 114 million Quetzales ($15 million U.S) literally buying votes with free chickens and mattresses, parties like Encuentro por Guatemala have been turning to social media instead.

The Fair’s Back in Town

Dust off your cowboy boots, people: it’s Fair time again in Xela. If you want to get technical about it, we’re talking Portada XW118 smallabout La Feria Internacional de Independencia. It’s when Guatemalans really show how they can put on a party.

First held back in 1884 in the Canton San Nicolas, the fair has had various homes over the years, but in 1984, to celebrate its centenary, the fairgrounds—CEFEMERQ—were constructed just out of town, and it’s been held there ever since.

The general tone has changed, too. Way back when, there were traditional games like chasing greased pigs (los coches encebados), balancing on ropes (la tamba del Diablo) and climbing greased poles (el palo encebado), along with parades through the city, social dances, horse races and beauty pageants.

That last part has survived, and grown. This year just some of the titles being contested are: Little Miss Quetzaltenango, Little Miss Maya, Miss Quetzaltenango, Miss Maya, Miss Indigenous, Miss Sports, and our favorites: Miss Municipal Employee and Miss Female Prisoner.



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Operation CUNOC!

It’s really not a good sign of the next four years to come when the political party that is leading in the polls shows such a massive disregard for the law. Early last month the TSE (the supreme electoral body in Guatemala) revealed that Líder had already passed the legal limit for campaign spending by a million quetzals. This is perhaps not surprising to anyone that´s stepped outside of their house in the last couple of months, although the sheer extent of their campaign financing is quite astonishing: they’ve spent more than double the next highest spending party (UNE), and very nearly more than all the other political parties’ campaign spending, combined. The TSE ordered an immediate halt to all of Líder´s campaigning activities, but a defiant Líder rebuked that they had done their own analysis of the figures and that they had come to the conclusion that they were still under the limit (funny that…) and so they completely ignored the order. Fortunately, students from Xela´s San Carlos University were quick to take things into their own hands: dressing up in yellow boiler suits and taking down all of the Líder campaign publicity they found in the streets. Bravo!