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.

Underdog Jimmy Morales took first place in the presidential election with 25% of the vote. Sandra Torres, ex-wife of ex-President Alvaro Colon (2008-2012) and Guatemala’s own Hillary Clinton awaiting her turn in power, came in second. As no candidate won over 50%, there’ll be a run-off election on October 25th between the top two candidates (more details on p13) which means poor Baldizon will be cheering from the sidelines and asking for some of those chickens back.

And here in Xela – for the past 12 years, the mayoral elections have been dominated by Jorge “Mito” Barrientos. Mito, however, is facing 27 allegations and 7 criminal cases that he has misused public funds. Until good ol’ Mito explains where those 150 million Quetzales are, he won’t be running in any elections. In the gap left, underdog Luis Grijalva, a political scientist won the election with a low-spending campaign based around social media and speaking directly to the electorate – something pretty unheard of in recent Guatemalan elections. None of Grijalva’s staff have been involved in politics before and tout their outsider credentials against the corrupt traditional political class.

So watch this space for the results of the October 25th run-off presidential elections and enjoy being in Guatemala during a time where political underdogs are finally getting a shot at the big time.


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