Poverty and crime are common in Guatemala; it has one of the worst crime rates in Latin America. Forty-three percent of children under the age of five are chronically malnourished and the murder rate last year was forty-two per a hundred thousand people—one of the highest in the world. Presidential elections in Guatemala ended on Sunday, November sixth of this year. The elections were base on the voters’ concerns for security. After suffering through more than a few decades of military dictatorship and civil war, this country of about thirteen million people craved for a leader who would provide them with safety. They wanted a leader who would get them off the list of being one of the countries with the highest murder rates in Latin America. The man who promised to fulfill this wish was Otto Perez Molina.
Molina, a sixty-year-old former general, is, by nature, reserved and intellectual; his campaign symbol was an iron fist—mano dura. During his time in the military, he commanded both troops during the worst carnage of Guatemala’s bloody civil war and negotiated the 1996 peace accords that put an end to it. Certainly, in a country where two hundred thousand people were killed through the thirty-six year civil war greatly supported the strategy to create an expanded domestic role for the military, which caused a dramatic turnaround of public opinion. As recently as 2007, when Molina lost his first presidential campaign to a leftist, the public was still cautious about strengthening the country’s security forces. However, after a year that has included several dreadful massacres credited to Mexican drug cartels, those opinions have been changing.
This year, Molina has been promoting a conservative, crime-fighting message, which appealed to edgy voters as the election-disorder amounted. Problems mainly came from the hands of street gangs and Mexican drug traffickers smuggling south into Central America. Being the first military man to be taken into consideration for governing since the peace accords were established in 1996, Molina would not normally be the favorite at the voting polls. However, his military background did not appear to be a problem during his campaign. Liberal voters voiced their uneasiness over the vision of a “tough-talking military man” in charge. Nevertheless, others saw Molina’s military experience as an advantage during a violence crisis. “We want the mano dura,” said Olga Alicia Argueta, leader of the vendors association at a crowded market in Guatemala. “A soldier brings his methods to take hard actions, and that’s what our country needs.” The vendors, like many other Guatemalans elsewhere, sound almost as a single voice when asked what their top concerns were on the day before the election. Their answer: security, security, and security.
Molina’s campaign against crime boosted his popularity as the Prensa Libre announced that the killings in Guatemala City run about twelve a day only. Riding the bus in the main...