Thursday, February 17, 2011

News briefs

Corruption, waste and fraud, lack of accountability ... these are common themes when Guatemalans talk about politics and elected authorities.   The press, in my humble view, does a pretty good job of calling attention to these issues -- "transparency" has been a common thread in much of the news coverage, particularly about the upcoming elections.

A news article today noted that the controller's office had found "irregularities" in how 311 municipalities had used funds. There are 332 municipalities, so that means (looking somewhat cynically) that there are perhaps 21 municipalities where there is no waste, corruption and fraud? Or that it just hasn't been found? Or that those 21 have done a better job of covering their tracks?

Locally, in Chinique, the women of Ixmukané have been trying to find out what happened with a sum of Q400,000 that was given to the municipalities for programs to benefit women. Apparently Q83,000 was spent, but there has been no accounting of the remaining Q317,000.  And the mayor has been "out" or otherwise engaged each time the women have come to talk with him.

The political parties have begun to muck up the countryside with their propaganda. The most common form of electoral promotion here is painting rocks and trees with the colors of the political party (and sometimes the insignia or initials). The green patches, or a white patch rimmed in green, is the UNE -- the party that emerged from the URNG (the umbrella organization formed when the guerrilla forces united). The red patches are the Partido Patriota -- one of several right-wing parties. Those are the ones I've seen most frequently around Quiché. There has been, however, a lot of criticism of the parties for defacing and damaging the natural environment -- since trees are a favored spot to paint these patches. On the path I take for my morning walk, there are green and white patches on many of the trees; on the road outside Santa Cruz del Quiché, heading towards Chichi, there are stretches where it seems over half the trees have been so painted. The road to Tapesquillo has a mixture of green/white and red patches, and some faded lettering (from a previous campaign, no doubt) for "Urge: Mano Dura". I don't know much about that party, but from the name it sounds like it has to be pretty far-right. On  the news a few weeks ago it was reported that environmental groups had asked the parties to pledge not to paint the trees -- doesn't seem to have had much effect.

There seems to be a lot of cynicism about electoral politics and elected officials -- at least among the people with whom I have spoken. No one seems to place a lot of faith in government -- local or national. This is not to say there is no mobilization or enthusiasm -- a few weeks ago the main square of Chiché was closed off for an UNE rally, and on the road into town, I saw a sizeable group of people, mostly women, marching and carrying placards for the party.  My acquaintances, however, are somewhat skewed towards people who are "community organizers" (for want of a better term), and so perhaps they have a more jaundiced view since elected officials have not been extraordinarily helpful, for the most part.


  1. "Mano Duro" -- "a firm hand" is the slogan used by Otto Molina Perez' Patriotic Party when he ran for president four years ago. He swept Guatemala City with his platform to put more police on the streets to deal with the crime problem and reinstitute the death penalty. Thankfully he lost the election, though only by a few percentage points. He has been part of the problem more than of the solution. He was an army intelligence general and CIA operative and the intellectual author of the massacres and disappearances in El Quiche during the 1980s. He has been implicated in the assassination of Bishop Juan Gerardi a few days after the bishop released the REMHI report, the Catholic Church's report on the political violence, which eventually led to the UN Commission declaring it to have been genocide in many areas of Guatemala -- an orchestrated campaign against indigenous people which resulted in the deaths of 250,000 people. (See Francisco Goldman's The Art of Political Murder, or Who Killed the Archbishop?) Perez currently heads his party in Congress, which gives him immunity from prosecution for his vast human rights crimes. See also:

  2. Thanks, Eliza, for supplying the background. The "Urge Mano Duro" slogans from the last elections are a bit faded, although the Partido Patriota colors have been touched up, and new posts, poles and rocks painted.