Election Day in Guatamala

Published on Election Day in Guatamala, Tuesday, September 8, 2015

By Richard and Debbie Welch, PCUSA Missionaries to Guatamala

Last Sunday (September 5th), Guatemalans went to polling places all over the country to select their next leaders. Every branch of government from the President/Vice President, to departmental representatives, congressional representatives, mayors and municipal leaders is up for grabs throughout Guatemala. We started our day by attending a prayer vigil for Guatemala that was organized by our little Presbyterian church in Cobán. Walking around town we observed a festive atmosphere around the polling places as people gathered, reconnected, and exercised their right to vote.

Observing this election process as outside observers made us realize that we haven’t been keeping our friends and supporters up to date on the incredible events that have rocked and shaped Guatemalan politics since April. With all the coverage we’ve been exposed to here, it slipped our minds that maybe not everyone has the same access to news surrounding all these happenings.

Many of you might remember our post of June 14 in which we asked for your prayers for Guatemala as outrage over exposed government corruption scandals intensified. (If not, you can read it here). The intensity of the outrage grew into what many are calling a “Guatemala Spring”. Following the resignations and incarcerations of many in the current cabinet that were linked to the scandal that robbed millions of dollars in tax revenue while critical public services struggled from lack of resources, thousands of Guatemalans from many different walks of life, gathered in different locations around the country to peacefully call for the resignation of the president. Just prior to Sunday’s elections, the congress voted unanimously to strip the president of his immunity from prosecution. Shortly thereafter, the president did step down and immediately was charged and incarcerated and is now awaiting trial. These are only the highlights. We’ve seen several good English-language articles related to all these happenings. We’ll refer you to a couple. Here’s a link to an article that does a good job of telling the story from the perspective of the Guatemalans protesting in the streets:

http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/features/2015/09/people-power-guatemalan-spring-150903075327898.html

This New Yorker article gives a very good account of the events leading up to the actions against the president, and some background on the president himself:

http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/from-president-to-prison-otto-perez-molina-and-a-day-for-hope-in-guatemala

It is against this political backdrop that Guatemalans went to the polls on Sunday. There was a popular cry to delay the elections, primarily because the populace does not believe the current field of candidates, each with his or her history of corruption, offers any improvement over the past administration; and that is no longer acceptable to a fed-up and empowered populace. Guatemala’s electoral commission decided that it would be too impractical to delay the national elections so close to the planned date. In what will probably ring with familiarity with many of our US readers, the majority of Guatemalans voted for a former business man and TV comedian with no previous experience in public office. As no candidate captured the required 50% majority, there will be a runoff election in October between him and a former first lady. Even though the field of candidates failed to reflect the spirit of intolerance to corruption so manifest among many Guatemalans, many cautiously believe that Guatemala is on a road to change, and that indifference, fear, or apathy are no longer the dominant attitudes towards corruption in this country.

This is truly an exciting time to be living and ministering in Guatemala. As a precaution, mission coworkers in Guatemala have been asked to review their contingency and emergency procedure plans should things take an ugly turn. And we remain thankful to be part of an organization that looks out for our safety and well-being. For several reasons, we hope and pray we can stay right here as this new dynamic in Guatemala unfolds before us. In the past we’ve shared the stories of students of different ages and backgrounds with whom we’ve had the privilege of working alongside. We share them because their stories are your stories too. All that we’ve been able to witness and accomplish has happened as a result of your faithful prayer, accompaniment, and financial support. Clearly the sense of hope and optimism among these folks is more prevalent among the younger students, but even older students that we’ve met through the theological training exhibit new energy and enthusiasm as they acquire a growing knowledge of their reformed faith and the roles they can play in praying for, working toward, and participating in positive change in the world around them.

Thank-you and blessings to you all!
Debbie and Richard Welch
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers, Guatemala