I survived elections! The last week has been quite an adventure, but here we are and the country hasn’t collapsed to chaos (though a fair number of things have been set on fire and other minor clashes have occurred countrywide).
I really wish I could give you an idea of what it was like in my community during elections (the mood at the voting centers, the announcement of the winners, etc.) but I can’t because I was evacuated by Peace Corps for safety reasons. Everyone in the Oriente was. Probably something about the East’s generally higher levels of aggression and propensity to carry guns around. So Thursday I headed to one of the training sites to stay with Lexi’s old host family and basically wait out the elections. We chatted about the elections, enjoyed Doña Suzana’s cooking, got some reading done and even attempted to learn how to juggle.
Polls were open from 7am to 6pm on Sunday and results started to trickle in about 11 pm. Watching the coverage brought back memories of 2008 and being at the Grand Sierra with organizers and volunteers I had worked with and celebrating and feeling generally excited about and awed by the entire democratic process. It even got me looking forward to 2012 and thankful I’ll probably be home in time to vote in person. But these feelings weren’t strong enough to keep me up too late to watch all the votes get tallied up, so I went to sleep. Or tried to. Soon after I shut off the TV the local results for mayor were released and the sounds of fireworks (and a few gunshots…) started filling the night.
I woke up the next morning to lots of news. Otto Perez Molina of Partido Patriota or the “Iron Fist” party had taken the most votes (about 36%) with Manuel Baldizon of Líder taking (24%) and the various other 10 or so candidates taking shares of the rest. Since Otto Perez didn’t reach 50% there will be a run-off election in November between the two. It’s an interesting statement from the country that Otto Perez took the most votes as his campaign (if you couldn’t tell by the whole “Iron Fist” thing) is based on restoring order, strengthening the military and cracking down on violence and drug trafficking. Why is this weird? Because not long ago Guatemala was embroiled in a civil war in which a strong military took out entire communities, a dark time older indigenous individuals are still haunted by. However, a combination of a young electorate (with seemingly short memories) and mounting desperation in the face of escalating violence took Otto Perez to the top. [Clearly, as Peace Corps volunteer, I am allowed to have no feelings on the matter and am supposed to remain apolitical. The expressed sentiments are more of a general consensus of international press articles.] It will be interesting to see how things play out in November between him and the populist Baldizon.
As for the race that has more of a direct effect on me, Chusito did not win re-election. Meaning that today the offices are about half as full as many people were let go immediately following the loss. The remaining skeletal crew will be here until January 14th until Joselito (also of Partido Patriota) and his team take over the 15th.
What does this mean? Well, first of all, that things are going to be pretty somber for the rest of the year. Chusito has been in office since 2000 and there was a good deal of confidence amongst muni workers that he (and they) were safe.
As for actual “work” – it doesn’t seem like much is going to get done. Lots of tying up loose ends/paying debts for the workers and possibly trying to finagle some sort of job in Joselito’s administration (though that seems unlikely as I’ve already heard Joselito’s promised far more jobs than there are positions – something like 5 women are already claiming they are the future cleaning lady). It’s unfortunate that I won’t be able to accomplish much or start anything new during this time, but I have a world map that I will be painting later this month, a youth leadership camp I’m planning for November and will be putting together proposals for the new mayor (I hope he keeps me!) – so I should stay fairly busy. Plus, I’ve still got my trusty youth groups to attend to.
It’s frustrating because now there’s more waiting. But I’m excited to be here when a new administration takes shape – to help them establish protocols and programs and develop their professional skills in ways that weren’t necessary for a 10 year old administration.
And if you were wondering, there was really no reason for me to be evacuated. Everything here was completely “tranquilo” with my neighbors even telling me they went to the park with their baby the night of the elections to hear the results firsthand. The place I had evacuated to? Groups were burning tires and firing shots into the air in protest. You never can be sure of what’s going to happen here!