Violence has plagued Guatemala since its colonsiation by the Spaniards. Guatemala’s history after the 1940s has been highlighted by a revolutionary struggle. The socialist policies introduced in Guatemala’s political system in the 1940s caused the United States to become suspicious and as a result, the CIA, with the help of Guatemalan exiles, ousted the socialist President, Jacobo Arbenz. Over the next few decades, Guatemala was ruled by a military junta which was responsible for the genocide of the Indigenous from the 1960s to the 1990s. Today Guatemala claims it is a democratic country; however its numerous corruption scandals prove otherwise. Former President Otto Perez Molina was forced to resign and jailed after his involvement of a multi million dollar customs scam was leaked to the public. It is time for a change in Guatemala’s democracy and the country is frustrated with the lack of government accountability.
Molina, elected in 2011, was the first military officer to be elected since Guatemala’s return to democracy in 1986. However his military past has been questioned since the corruption scandal was revealed. The website “Unredacted,” an independent research organization at the George Washington University that publishes government records, accuses Molina of “growing up with blood stains on his hands.” Molina may have participated in Rios Montt’s counterinsurgency campaign which jailed and killed suspected guerrillas. It is suspected that Molina was part of a military intelligence unit which engaged in practices of corruption, torture and disappearances during the Guatemalan civil war. Many of the other elected political candidates have also been accused of corruption scandals, not just Molina. In addition, some candidates are accused of funding their campaigns through drug trafficking and criminal activities such as money laundering.
If the heads of state participate in these activities, what gives the government the right to punish local criminals? What stops the general public from emulating these crimes? Corruption is obviously ingrained within the political system, as it was in the military junta during the 1960s. It is quite clear that Guatemala’s historical events have all been underlined by corruption and scandals. Spaniards colonized Indigenous Guatemalans, exploiting their land and their people. Further, the CIA and the United States engineered a plot to overthrow the socialist president from office. Guatemala was in the process of transitioning to socialism; however the United States saw that as a threat to their democracy and an act that would strengthen Russia during the Cold War. Today the voting polls are open for Guatemalans to choose a new candidate, but many feel that voting cannot produce real change. Many believe that voting will legitimize the system of political corruption, however not voting will give candidates the right to abuse their power.
During the days leading up to the election thousands of Guatemalans have lined the streets and public squares, staging demonstrations and protests against the corruption scandals sweeping the nation. This is the right approach. The new generation is responsible for the well-being and success of their nation. Protesting for change will raise awareness and force politicians to listen and realize that they are accountable to the people and must prove they deserve the right to govern. Perhaps, Guatemala needs to overhaul its political system in an effort to prevent and reduce corruption. There is a fear, however unlikely, that the military may intervene in the government, despite the constitution that forbids this. The military junta ruled for two decades after Arbenz was ousted. The military was the cause of the civil war and a return to military interference is not a good solution for Guatemala. In order to limit corruption, Guatemala needs to implement a new democratic system. Guatemala uses a presidential system now, rather they should implement a parliamentary system instead. The parliamentary system is more stable and accountable than a presidential system. In a presidential system, power is concentrated in the hands of one individual, the president. There is less corruption in the parliamentary system because there is more accountability. In the event of a political scandal, an election can be called because candidates do not have fixed terms, unlike presidential systems. A parliamentary system would increase accountability and prove more stable, presenting the best solution for Guatemala at this moment.
While voting for a new candidate may be a daunting task for Guatemalans, it is a necessary one. This vote will prove to set the tone for Guatemalan politics in the next few years. This is the opportunity to produce real change. The protests and demonstrations taking place in the streets have garnered momentum and awareness for politics. It is up to the people to choose which path they want their country to take. It is the hope that Guatemala makes the necessary changes to prevent corruption and act as a model to the rest of the politically struggling countries in Latin America.
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