Guatemalans Go To The Polls

15 hours ago
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LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

The challenges in Guatemala are many. It is the country sending the most migrants right now to the United States. A drought in rural areas has seen crops decimated. Sixty percent of the population lives in poverty. There are thousands of murders every year, especially of women. And today voters are heading to the polls to elect a new president. But this election has already been marred by scandals around corruption.

Martin Rodriguez Pellecer is editor-in-chief of the investigative media website Nomada, and he joins us now from Guatemala City. Thank you so much.

MARTIN RODRIGUEZ PELLECER: Thank you, Lulu, for inviting me.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me about what voters in Guatemala care about. What issues do they want addressed in this election?

PELLECER: Well, they want to address the economy and jobs. They say, especially in rural areas, that there's nothing here. They don't have opportunities. They - they want to work, but there's not enough well-paid work. So 40% of the Guatemalans, in a poll, answered that they - if they could, they could migrate to the U.S.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And that's an interesting statistic. And as far as I understand it, though, despite the fact that there's been a lot of focus from the Trump administration, obviously, on the migration issue, it has not been a major campaign issue from the candidates, even though 40% of the country would like to leave.

PELLECER: Yes, but we have to understand that the candidates participating, most of them are really conservative, just focused on doing exactly what the U.S. administration and the Guatemalan elite want to hear in terms of labor rights, environmental rights, community rights. They're not in touch at all with what the people want. And it's important to say that the Constitutional Court banned the former attorney generals that wanted to compete. The ones that were fighting corruption, they're not going to be allowed to compete.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And as far as I understand it, polls show that Guatemalans are very suspicious of the election's very legitimacy at this point.

PELLECER: Yes, it has been a huge setback the last four years. And it's very complex to understand because five years ago, we had big demonstrations. We overthrew a very corrupt government in the most institutional way. He was sent to trial, and then the U.N. commission. And the attorney general went all the way investigating the elites, the judges, the congressmen. But then the U.S. intervened and stopped supporting this U.N. commission.

And after a lobby in the U.S. Congress, they stopped supporting the funding, and they started supporting the government. With the Trump administration, there was a lobby by the president, corrupt politicians and some businessmen. And with this lobby, especially the Republican Party started believing that the Kremlin was maneuvering over this commission, which is absolutely fake news because the support comes from the U.S. and Europe.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So I think what I'm hearing you say is that your expectation is that this election will not really change the status quo in Guatemala.

PELLECER: Exactly. It won't change anything in Guatemala. Now we are going to have a much deeper humanitarian crisis in Guatemala. People are going to keep fleeing Guatemala, and it's not going to improve. And if the U.S. or Mexico brings the military to the border, it's just going to worsen everything.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Martin Rodriguez Pellecer is the editor-in-chief of the investigative media website Nomada. We reached him in Guatemala City.

Thank you very much.

PELLECER: Thank you so much, Lulu. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.