Retired General Sweeps Guatemala Election

By Dialogo
November 08, 2011

A retired general promising a crackdown on violent crime won Guatemala’s presidential election on November 6 and will be the first military man to take power since democracy was restored in 1986.

Guatemala’s electoral tribunal declared Perez the winner late in the day, and his supporters began celebrating in the streets.

It was a clear move to the right for Central America’s largest economy and came after leftist President Alvaro Colom failed to contain violent crime or protect the country from Mexican drug cartels using it as a key smuggling route.

Perez, 60, won the run-off election by promising a “firm hand” against crime. He has vowed by deploying troops on the streets and increasing the size of the police force.

“From the first day on, Guatemalans are going to see they’ve got a president committed to defending the lives and safety of all Guatemalans,” Perez said after hearing of the victory, and vowed to devote at least 60 percent of his time on security.

Supporters set off fireworks and joined a street party near the convention center where the votes were counted. They sported the Patriot Party’s orange colors on shirts and caps and waved their fists in the air in imitation of Perez’s clenched-hand campaign emblem.

Guatemala’s murder rate is about eight times that of the United States and many of the country’s 14.7 million people want a tougher stance on crime.

The election campaign focused mainly on Guatemala’s battle against street gangs and Mexican drug traffickers moving South American cocaine up through the country to the United States. Military experts say cartels and gangs control around 40 percent of Guatemala, a huge challenge for the next president.

Perez wants to hire 10,000 new police and 2,500 more soldiers to tackle crime, a model similar to that used in Mexico to combat the cartels.