I love a good pun, and it makes me especially happy to find one in another language. On the right in this photo is a sign prohibiting the throwing of trash, with the threat of a $70 fine. The signmaker made an error, however, which my Spanish speaking friends who also read the language will see immediately. “Botar” means to throw, and is pronounced the same way as “votar”, which means to vote. So the sign actually says “It is prohibited to vote for trash”. To the left is a promotion for one of Guatemala’s many political parties, this one called “Convergencia”. The convergence of these two signs is most amusing to me.
Elections are in process in Guatemala. The former president and vice president having been thrown in jail on corruption charges. The two candidates who garnered the most votes in the first round of voting will square off on the 26th of this month. They are Sandra Torres Casanova, wife of a former president, and Jimmy Morales, a wealthy entertainer with no political ties. Sound eerily familiar? In another disconcerting reflection of American politics, both are apparently on a first name basis with their supporters.
Jimmy Morales has come on the scene recently and upset the normal progression of Guatemalan politics. Typically, when a president has finished his term of office, whomever came in second to him succeeds him. To the consternation of those who supported Lider candidate Manuel Baldizon Mendez, he was upset, creating this contest between an outsider and a former first lady, who would become the first female president of Guatemala.
As my friends will attest, I am overly interested in politics. One thing I have noted during my travels in Central America is the fear of dictatorship amongst the nascent democracies of the region, and the subsequent distortion of their constitutions. The president here in Guatemala is limited to a single term, as is the case in El Salvador and Honduras. I am opposed to term limits of any sort. I believe they are a restriction of the electorate’s right to vote for whomever they please. Term limits in the United States insert artificial and often dramatic upheavals into a system which the framers of our constitution wisely designed to inhibit drastic change in favor of stability.
Central American countries have taken this to the extreme. Limiting the presidency to a single term removes all consequences for not delivering on one’s promises, and all incentive to act for the benefit of voters. To make matters worse, here in Guatemala, when the presidency changes hands, so do the governorships of all the departments (states) who are appointed by the president, and all the positions within the departments, who are appointed by the new governor. There is a complete transfer of power, top to bottom. Hence, any projects initiated but not completed by a former president are abandoned and replaced according to the priorities and political allegiances of the new leaders. There is no continuity, no consistent bureaucracy to maintain progress.
No party in Guatemala has ever won the presidency twice, and many of the parties in each election are newly formed, including, this time, that of Jimmy Morales, who is favored to win election.
As an aside, one aspect of Jimmy Morales’ platform is to reclaim Belize as a part of Guatemala, which makes about as much sense as building a wall between the US and Mexico, but is equally effective at energizing a certain demographic.
I believe change is good. I voted for it in 2008. I also recognize the importance of stability in government institutions and the right of the electorate to decide what change happens and when. Term limits create artificial instability and restrict the rights of the voters. Any restrictions should be on the ability of elected representatives to use their position to gain advantage in elections or to solidify their power. No restriction should be placed on one’s right to vote as one chooses.
Whomever is elected at the end of the month in Guatemala will have four years to do as they please, and, if history is any lesson, to enrich themselves and their friends. If they had to stand for re-election, Guatemala would be a very different place.