Guatemala faces a choice between continuity and change in presidential runoff
Guatemalan Presidential Runoff: Sandra Torres vs. Bernardo Arévalo
Guatemalans will cast their ballots on Sunday to elect their next president, in a runoff that pits a conservative former first lady against a progressive newcomer. The election comes amid a deepening economic and social crisis, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the aftermath of two devastating hurricanes in 2020.
Sandra Torres: A Familiar Face with a Controversial Past
Sandra Torres is the candidate of the National Unity of Hope (UNE) party, which has governed the country for eight of the last 12 years. She served as first lady from 2008 to 2012, when her then-husband Álvaro Colom was president. She oversaw several social programs that benefited the poor, especially in rural areas. She also has a strong base of support among indigenous and women voters.
Torres has run for president three times before, in 2011, 2015, and 2019. In 2011, she divorced Colom to circumvent a constitutional ban on relatives of the president running for office, but the Supreme Court rejected her candidacy anyway. In 2015 and 2019, she reached the second round, but lost to Jimmy Morales and Alejandro Giammattei, respectively.
Torres has faced several accusations of corruption and illicit campaign financing. In 2019, she was arrested and placed under house arrest for allegedly receiving illegal donations from businessmen during her 2015 campaign. She was released in February 2021 after a judge ruled that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute her. She has denied any wrongdoing and claimed to be a victim of political persecution.
Torres has positioned herself as a pragmatic and experienced leader who can provide stability and continuity in a time of uncertainty. She has promised to expand the social programs she initiated as first lady, as well as to invest in infrastructure, health, education, and security. She has also pledged to respect the rule of law and fight against corruption.
Bernardo Arévalo: A Fresh Face with a Progressive Vision
Bernardo Arévalo is the candidate of the Seed Movement (Semilla), a progressive party founded in 2017 by former members of civil society organizations. He is a congressman who represents Guatemala City, where he was born and raised. He has a degree in political science from Rafael Landívar University and a master’s degree in public policy from Harvard University.
Arévalo surprised many observers when he came in second place in the first round of the election on June 25, with 14.6 percent of the vote. He beat more established candidates such as former attorney general Thelma Aldana and former foreign minister Edmond Mulet. He also faced several attempts to disqualify him and his party from the race, which he denounced as part of a “dirty war” against him.
Arévalo has presented himself as an agent of change who can break with the traditional political elite that has failed to address the country’s problems. He has proposed a bold agenda that includes reforming the constitution, strengthening democratic institutions, promoting human rights, fighting poverty and inequality, protecting the environment, and fostering regional integration.
Arévalo has also vowed to restore the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN-backed anti-corruption body that was expelled from the country by former president Morales in 2019. He has said that he would seek to renegotiate the agreement with the UN and invite CICIG back to Guatemala to resume its work.
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