Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Election dramas

The elections were filled with fraud and deception. I will limit myself to what I heard about directly, not what appeared in the papers. Throughout the day of the 11th as we visited polling sites and party headquarters, we heard about vote buying (incumbent mayors handing out roofing tiles or money) and people being bused in from other cities to vote. The other team that was visiting other towns spent most of the afternoon in Nebaj where a member of Winaq had been violently attacked.  

Things started to get ugly at night as votes were being counted and got uglier as the next day dawned. I mentioned that in my town there was a fracas as supporters of one party started to burn ballots. I spoke to a friend who was a poll watcher and he told me that the mob wanted to burn down the incumbent mayor's house and the town hall. He had already left the place where the votes were being counted when the mob formed, and said he didn't know what was going to happen and feared for his safety.  There was no public meeting yesterday. Representatives of the parties and the candidates met with the Ministerio Público for much of the day.  The news today is that the election in town was annulled because of the violence and the burned ballots and that there is going to be a meeting tomorrow with the candidate of the various parties and the Tribunal Supremo Electoral to discuss what will be done: another election, or just allow the incumbent to stay.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, in Zacualpa, the next town to the east of us, about 20 km. down the highway, there was a much more violent outbreak. Apparently there was a mob that attacked the police headquarters, the municipal building and the mayor's home. What I heard was that they burned the municipal building, and that they had taken the incumbent mayor's son hostage (or sequestered him at least). 

In Chichicastenango, located about 50 km away, friends told me that there was broadly based protest about the result of the mayoral race. Many citizens turned out to protest in front of the town hall and then moved to the headquarters of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE is the acronym in Spanish). The person who was elected, the candidate of a Comité Cívico, is widely known (at least to my friends who live in or near the town proper) to be corrupt and a liar. So people were outraged that he had won. The crowd was not limited to partisans of one specific party but more representative of the general population. 

According to the papers, there were revolts of discontented voters in 70 towns, most of which included some violent outbursts. Most of these seemed to have been in the western highlands.

The left did not do well in local elections. My friends in San Miguel Ixtahuacan, San Marcos, were very disappointed that the candidate they had backed for mayor lost, and that the person who won is someone who supports mining -- a hot-button issue in the highlands, and especially among indigenous communities. They told me that the current mayor (who won re-election) has not taken account of the popular consultation (consulta comunitaria), that came out strongly against mining.  However, Rigoberta Menchú  received a higher percentage in the presidential race than she did in 2007, and the Frente Amplio did pick up one seat in the congress. 

Yesterday (Monday) and today things seemed unnaturally quiet. There were few people out in Santa Cruz and Chinique seemed almost moribund. Today there was a stepped up police presence in town, and both police and army were in some evidence in Santa Cruz. 

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