The People Have Spoken

Presidential elections were held in Guatemala on November 9th.  Everyone was a bit on edge.  As you may have read in other parts of our website, the fear was that Rioss Montt would win the election.  This would have likely brought a lot of suffering to the indigenous people of the country.

Up until the 9th, there were tons of radio ads telling people that their vote was secret, and no records were kept as to who voted for which candidate.  The people voting for a candidate other than Rioss Montt feared that, if he won, he would seek out and punish those who didn’t support him.  Though this sounds crazy in the U.S., it’s a very real threat here, given that Montt was responsible for the genocide here in the early 80’s.

So, Gabby and I went to the town center with our family to see how the whole process worked.  It was INCREDIBLE!  There was a traffic jam waiting to get into town to vote.  The lines for registration were an hour long.  The lines to vote were even longer.  It seems that everyone wanted to have their say in this election to make sure Montt wouldn’t win.

Our family actually cut in line, and still had to wait 90 minutes to vote.  Others weren’t so lucky.  I met a man from the coastal area who said his wait was four hours to register, and four more hours to vote.  The amazing thing was how patiently everyone waited.  It was quite a sight.

Though many feared violence and protests on election day, the news was fairly tame by Guatemalan standards.  There were a couple of disturbances.  A few polling places had occurrences of voters breaking in and burning ballot boxes.  Three people were killed when they were trampled underfoot by a crowd demanding to enter the poling place… similar to some concert scenes you’ve heard of back in the states.

Though these random problems are very sad, in the end, democracy was preserved.  The fraud that many had come to expect never fully materialized.  Guatemalans have reason to trust their democratic system once again.  Rioss Montt came in a distant third.  The top two candidates are now in a runoff to see who will get to be President here.  Though no one can be sure of how many of their promises are sincere, at least they are better than Rioss Montt.  

Check back at the start of 2004 to see how the December elections went!

 

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