In Guatemala’s national elections, held on September 6, no candidate achieved the necessary majority to win the presidency outright. The top two candidates, Jimmy Morales and Sandra Torres, will face each other in a runoff election on October 25. Sophie Beaudoin has written in International Justice Monitor at what the election of either Jimmy Morales or Sandra Torres might mean for the future of trials for grave crimes committed during Guatemala’s 36-year conflict.
During the campaign, Morales pledged that if elected, he would agree to extend the mandate of the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) until 2022. He estimates that by 2022, the country should be able to continue the fight against impunity without international assistance.
But even if a Morales administration were willing to extend the CICIG mandate, the background of some of Morales’s supporters and associates raises questions about how vigorously his administration would pursue justice for past atrocities as his support appears to run deep among other former soldiers with an ideological, and perhaps personal, stake in the judicial treatment of Guatemala’s troubled past. Further on this military point, Morales is the candidate of the National Convergence Front party (FCN), founded in 2008 by retired soldiers, many of whom played significant roles in implementing the government’s counterinsurgency strategy during the conflict.
In addition, many of the FCN’s founders are members of the conservative Guatemalan Army Veterans Association (AVERIMILGUA). When former dictator Efrain Rios Montt and his then-head of military intelligence Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez went on trial for genocide and crimes against humanity in 2013, the association helped to launch a political and media campaign to stop the proceedings. Their campaign, called “The Genocide Sham,” aimed to discredit participants in the trial, including judges, and deny that genocide ever occurred in the country. Furthermore, two of his close associates, Edgar Ovalle Maldonado and César Cabrera Mejia, have clear ties to the military.
During the campaign, Jimmy Morales himself has not addressed the topic of grave crimes investigations and trials, or whether he would welcome their continuation but former military officials associated with the FCN do have opinions on the future of grave crimes proceedings in Guatemala, a Morales victory could leave them well positioned to affect relevant policies.
Sandra Torres was first lady from 2008 to 2012, during the presidency of her then-husband, Alvaro Colom. Torres and Colom divorced in March 2011, two months prior to the start of a political campaign in which Torres sought to run for president but the Constitutional Court ultimately rejected her candidacy.
Torres is the candidate of the social-democratic political party she founded with Colom in 2001, the National Unity of Hope (UNE). The party’s platform focuses on providing employment for all, fighting poverty, and improving the educational and health systems.
Like her opponent Jimmy Morales, Sandra Torres has underlined the importance of CICIG’s continuity in the country and congratulated it on its anti-corruption work. CICIG investigations played an important role during the term of Torres’s ex-husband. Following the May 2009 killing of attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg in Guatemala City, a video emerged in which Rosenberg declared that if something ever happened to him, President Colom and his then wife, Sandra Torres, would be responsible for his death. However, CICIG concluded that Rosenberg had organized his own murder.
But not all CICIG activities have been beneficial for Torres. This year, CICIG presented a report concluded that the UNE has been funded, in part, by drug trafficking, money laundering, and corruption. During the campaign, Sandra Torres has repeatedly emphasized the importance of fighting corruption and pledged transparency in government if she wins.
On the campaign trail, Torres has not directly addressed the topic of investigations and trials for atrocities committed during Guatemala’s 36-year long conflict. She does have links, however, to opponents of the 2013 trial of Efrain Ríos Montt and Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity. The Central Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF), Guatemala’s powerful business lobby, publically denied the existence of genocide in Guatemala. Furthermore, after the trial CACIF called on the Constitutional Court to annul the verdict, which it did.