Sunday, August 5, 2007

Elections more violent than war

So says Álvaro Colom, the leading presidential candidate in the bloodiest campaign season in the history of Guatemala. Guatemala’s 36-year civil war ended in 1996, but street violence remains a part of daily life. Elections bring an increase in violence as not only traffickers, but rogue soldiers and paramilitary groups, street gangs and smugglers all vie for influence along with the regular candidates. This year’s “political violence” is said to be different, its goal being to put drug traffickers or their allies into political office. This makes sense, as Guatemala is increasingly important as a transit point for the 60-90% of South American cocaine entering the US. So far this campaign season, 26 people have been killed, including 7 congressmen and a number of political activists, in a total of 61 reported attacks on both candidates and political activists. To avoid ambushes, Colom uses a helicopter, a doctor experienced in treating bullet wounds at his side. Not mere paranoia, more people of Colom’s party have been attacked than others, and Colom’s uncle Manuel Colom Argueta was shot dead while leading the 1979 presidential race.
Other candidates include former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, whose arrest was requested by the US Congress in April and is the subject of a warrant issued by a Spanish judge based on complaints filed by Rigoberta Menchú (right). A Quiche Indian and also a candidate, Menchú earned the 1992 Nobel Peace Prize for her work on behalf of the indigenous communities that suffered the worst of the violence during Guatemala’s civil war. She also filed the complaint in Spain that led to the Guatemalan generals judgment. If elected, Menchú would be at once the first indigenous person and the first woman president. And she would no doubt support the International Commission Against Impunity, the future of which Grace O’Malley updates below.

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