Violence a Key Issue for Guatemala Elections Guatemala, the most violent country in Central America, holds local, congressional, and presidential elections this weekend. Almost 50 people linked to the candidates have been killed. The murders have become a key issue between the two leading contenders for the presidency.

Violence a Key Issue for Guatemala Elections

Violence a Key Issue for Guatemala Elections

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/14232839/14232732" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Guatemala, the most violent country in Central America, holds local, congressional, and presidential elections this weekend. Almost 50 people linked to the candidates have been killed. The murders have become a key issue between the two leading contenders for the presidency.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

This is the weekend when the most violent country in Central America holds an election. People in Guatemala are voting for local, congressional and presidential candidates. And as the election approaches, almost 50 people linked to the candidates have been killed. The murders have become a key issue between the two leading contenders for the presidency.

NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports that the violence came close to one of them.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO: While Otto Perez Molina was giving interviews to the foreign press inside a well-protected building in an upscale neighborhood of Guatemala City, just outside the police were involved in a shootout with a gang of potential kidnappers about to nab someone.

Violence is everywhere in Guatemala. There were 6,000 murders here last year alone. Ninety-eight percent of them went unsolved. For many voters, like housewife Roselia Urias(ph), it is the deciding issue of this election.

Ms. ROSELIA URIAS: (Through translator) My young girls are growing up and the first thing one wants for one's children is security. The security situation is terrible. We go out onto the streets and we don't know if we will even get home. There is so much delinquency.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: You can see tattooed gang members hanging out on any given street corner in most depressed neighborhoods. Drug traffickers have taken over whole swaths of the country, where there is an almost complete absence of government.

Mario Polanco is a human rights activist in Guatemala. He and many other observers here believe that Guatemala is on the brink of becoming a lawless narco-state. He says the ones with real control are the members of organized crime.

Mr. MARIO POLANCO (Human Rights Activist): (Through translator) I see Guatemala kind of like one of those movies about the mafia in New York. Family A controls one region while family B controls another. That is what this country has become.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Even though the peace accords were signed here in 1996, this is, in many ways, a profoundly fractured society that is still haunted by a past that left 200,000 people dead.

The two leading contenders for president are part of that history. Otto Perez Molina, on the right, is a former military intelligence chief who's now promising una mano dura, or a firm hand. In an interview that took place just after the attempted kidnapping outside his offices, he said he will use the army to bring order back to Guatemala.

General OTTO PEREZ MOLINA (Presidential Candidate, Patriotic Party): (Through translator) The situation of violence and insecurity in which we are living shows that we will need to take advantage of any resources that are available. The army is a resource of the state. Analysts have said Guatemala is on its way to becoming a failed state. We have to do everything to make sure that doesn't happen.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: His main rival, center-left Alvaro Colom, was the head of the National Peace Fund that gave out money to help reconstruct Guatemala after the war. He considers the idea of mano dura madness.

ALVARO COLOM (Presidential Candidate, National Union of Hope Party): (Through translator) That is to go back to the past, to return to the days of assassinations, to confusion and chaos.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The latest polls show that Perez Molina, though, has been gaining ground day-by-day and the two candidates are in a dead heat coming into the vote on Sunday. Still, neither candidate will get the 50 percent needed to avoid a November runoff.

Clutching her young child in her hand, tortilla seller Margarita Cook(ph) said, like many others I've spoken to, that she doesn't feel anyone will be able to solve Guatemala's many woes.

Ms. MARGARITA COOK: (Spanish spoken)

GARCIA-NAVARRO: We are in a bad way, she tells me. Everyone has made so many promises, and we are still in the same place. We never get security, she says. They never deliver on what they vow.

Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Guatemala City.

Copyright © 2007 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.