While indigenous Mayans account for some 40% of Guatemala’s population, they are largely left on the sidelines of the country’s political affairs. But with presidential elections coming up this fall, there’s a ray of hope that they may finally be getting more of a voice, with a voter registration drive specifically targeting four key Mayan languages:
A total of 35,000 announcements will be broadcast over 91 radio stations inviting indigenous Guatemalans to register to vote, as part of a drive to promote more participation in the upcoming September elections.
Supreme Electoral Court president Maria Eugenia Villagran said the broadcasts would be heard throughout Guatemala, but would focuse on regions where most the indigenous communities are located. These include de Totonicapan, Solola, Quiche, Alta Verapaz, Chimaltenango, Baja Verapaz and Huehuetenango. The campaign is aimed about providing information on all aspects of the elections in a dynamic way, Villagran said.
Augusto Tul Rax, president of the Maya Language Academy, said the step was positive, but that it should be expanded to include more the country’s 22 languages, including Garifuna and Xinka.
The two leading candidates in the elections are Otto Perez Molina, a retired general, and Sandra Torres, the current first lady. I wrote about Torres back in March, when she announced she was divorcing her husband, President Alvaro Colom, in order to bypass a constitutional law prohibiting immediate family members from running for office. It remains to be seen whether courts will allow that move.
For his part, Perez Molina is soon heading to Washington in an apparent effort to enlist key support for his candidacy from US officials. He’ll be met with protests as well, though, because of a rather questionable track record on human rights during his tenure as a general during the civil war. Current polls show Perez Molina with 37% of the vote, and Torres significantly behind at 21%. The indigenous population seems to slightly favor Torres.
Meanwhile, in a major setback for UN efforts to curb rampant corruption in the country, former president Alfonso Portillo was surprisingly acquitted on Tuesday of embezzlement charges. The UN commission expressed its disgust, saying the ruling “reflects the real state of justice in Guatemala.” Portillo may still face extradition to the US, where he’s accused of laundering the tens of millions of dollars he’s stolen through US banks.