The Colors of Politics
Trip Start Jan 06, 2010
29Trip End Feb 23, 2012
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People got paid to have their houses painted the colors of a particular candidate. So driving down the street was like looking at a voting center. Entire towns were painted orange. Then the next town was all red. Then the next town was split half white and green and half white and blue. I quickly learned the colors of the parties and could see who was a stronger candidate by the amount of flags they had in a town and the amount of houses painted their colors.
First I began to familiarize myself with the colors, then the names, and then the gossip. For the past year there has been a lot of talk about the political election. Then for the past two months there has been a lot of talk about who are the candidates. Now for the past week politics has been the only thing that is to talk about.
To begin with the colors and parties:
The mano dura or hard hand party with a symbol of an iron fist is orange. Their candidate is an ex military general and he is running on the premise that the country has too much violence and he is going to fix that by sending the military out to take care of the gangs and drug lords.
The lider or leader party is red with a symbol of a thumbs up. Their candidate looks like he stepped out of a CIA movie from the 1950s. All I know about him is that he uses phrases like family values a lot. And his billboards promise that he will implement the death penalty.
The UNE party which stands for something, but also means unite, is green and has a symbol of two hands making a bird. They are the current ruling party. Guatemala has a law that says a president can only stay for 4 years or 1 term. And no family members of ex presidents can run again. The wife of the current president tried to get a divorce and run on her own. This caused an uproar because in a religious country like Guatemala most people do not agree in divorce. The government said she couldn't run. So she appealed. Twice. In the end she was not able to run, but this was a good topic of conversation for a couple of months.
On top of that, as the first lady, she was famous because she likes to give away money in a program called Mi familia progressa. She gave in incentives for sending kids to school. Parents got $40 a kid if they went to school (I’m not sure if that is a one time gift or monthly). The joke was that it should be called Mi cantina progressa because dad’s would just use that money to drink. Also at her rallies she would give away bags of food called Bolsas solidarias which was supposed to mean that you would vote for her if you received the food. She said she was supporting the poor.
The CREO or believe party has the colors of the German flag. Their presidential candidate was born and Switzerland and actually went to university (the majority of the candidates have not).
Another party is called Winaq or people in many of the Mayan dialects. Their candidate is a noble prizewinner named Rigoberta Menchu. She is indigenous and famous internationally for writing a book about her struggles during the war.
The VIVA party is blue and is led by an evangelical minister. He also had troubles registering as a candidate because no one could understand that he renounced himself as a minister. He also had to go through a lot of troubles of appealing in different courts to get on the ballot. But he did it.
Yet another party is UCN which means something but everyone in my town referred to their by their logo – a bulls eye. It was common knowledge that a lot of their campaign financing came from the drug lords.
Just to mention one more, there is the party of the guerrilla fighters from the war called URNG who have corn as their symbol.
As you can see another differentiating feature of Guatemalan politics is that there are so many parties. It is nothing like in America where you can more or less guess what a candidates opinions are based on the R or D next to their name. There are 20 parties nation wide and some communities even have local parties just for their town. It makes understanding what a candidate stands for even harder to know.
Mostly it means the young and the old talk about the gossip of each of the candidates. The presidential election is not nearly as important here as it is in the states. In the states the TV allows us to focus all of our thoughts on the national elections. In my experience in Guatemala, there is a little discussion about the national figures. That is left to the newspapers. In the conversations I have with the store owners, colleagues, friends, family around the dinner table – we talk about the gossip of the local candidates.
That does not mean that the presidential candidates are pushed to the side. It is just those are more touchy subjects because that is where someone will have an opinion about the candidate as opposed to gossip. Otherwise they don’t have an opinion on the presidential candidate and are just doing what their local favorite tells them to do. (Ex: If I like the CREO local candidate then I will automatically vote for the CREO presidential candidate because I trust the local guy).
There were only a few main candidates that everyone talked about, other than that I learned a lot of gossip about the local candidates. The gossip could be anything. How many girl friends does the ex-mayor have? How old did you say she was? How much money is that candidate going to steal? What are his religious beliefs? How many cars does that candidate have? What has that candidate given away lately? Where did he give his speech today (not what did he say, but what did he feed the crowd)? Where did you see him drinking? What did he do during the war? How many times has he run? How many cows is he going to slaughter if he wins?
I can’t imagine how hard it would be to run for mayor in a small town where everyone knows everything about you from birth. Everyone knows who your parents are, who your relatives are, and what all of them stood for. And even if they don’t know it yet, the next door neighbor does and is going to tell you about it – all in the name of transparent democracy. Maybe that is a good thing. Maybe that is a bad thing. But it sure makes for interesting conversations for me. I have no clue what any of the mayoral candidates wants to do in terms of policy, but I know about their family lives.
When I vote I go to the trouble of researching (through the help of an organization that has collected all the information for me) what the candidate’s voting record is and what they are promising. But that is troublesome and still hard because in politics we all know that people lie.
Imagine if there are 12 candidates or more. And none of them have a record. And even the political party doesn’t have a record because there has only been 4 elections since the civil war has stopped and a lot of the political parties are new. It makes sense then that the candidates are more famous for their colors, logo, gifts, and gossip. Maybe trusting the rumor mills and reputation is better – because the mayor have a lot of people trusting their lies. Whereas I am very detached from voting in the US as I can’t go to the mayor’s mom’s house or his wife’s house or even his girlfriend’s house if I have a problem with what he is doing. Here that is possible to hold him accountable to his promises.
Now the first round of the elections are done. Everyone but the president is decided. The president has to win by 50 + 1%, and seeing as there are so many candidates that is not possible during the first round. So in November there will be another round. The people will vote between the top two parties: the orange mano dura and the red lider.
The contents of this website are mine personally and do not refelct any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.