Guatemala elections and drug cartels – also a risk for America
Drug cartels have a grip on Guatemala, harming that country and posing a risk to the US. September elections – and the government that emerges – need transparency and reform to free officials from the influence of cartels.
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September’s elections are the fourth since peace accords in 1996 formally ended the country’s 36-year civil war. While these polls have been credible and free from major fraud, the years since the accords have seen a weak and ineffective government unable to address the country’s issues.Skip to next paragraph
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Inequality in Guatemala is among the world’s worst. Malnutrition is rampant in both the indigenous highlands and urban slums. The public does not trust the police and judiciary, both of which are easily corrupted by business elites, drug traffickers, and clandestine groups linked to ex-military and intelligence officials.
Impunity is pervasive, with only a tiny fraction of homicides prosecuted and an even lower percentage of trials for outdated crimes. Guatemala’s electoral campaign is one of the most expensive of the hemisphere, in per capita terms – an insult to an impoverished country.
Strengthen government through reform
In order to form a government strong enough to tackle these issues, the Tribunal Supremo Electoral, the country’s highest electoral authority, must publicize and crack down on campaign finance law violations. Major donor nations and other international actors should demand spending transparency from political leaders and organizations.
In addition to initiating and facilitating June’s direct regional talks between Central America’s presidents, the US should support other international missions. Those include helping the Organization of American States beef up its upcoming electoral observation mission and encouraging politicians to focus on their policies, rather than simply attack their opponents.
But it doesn’t end with elections. After the votes are tallied, the electoral commission should press for complete political reform. It should increase its power to include the ability to sanction noncompliant political parties. TV and radio time should be limited to rein in spending. Public funding for political parties should be increased to create less need for private spending from illegitimate sources.
The United States has recognized the problem – enough so to send the secretary of state and the president to the region. But until Guatemala’s dirty politics are cleaned up, their efforts will be for naught, and the people of Guatemala will be beholden to drug lords who have the worst interests of their country – and those of the US – at heart.
Mark Schneider is senior vice president at the International Crisis Group. Javier Ciurlizza is Latin America program director.