This is due in large part to the influential Zeta drug cartel. It infiltrated Guatemala after the anti-drug war unleashed by President Felipe Calderón in Mexico – with US support – forced the cartel to expand operations outside of Mexico. The drug kings have used violence to permeate Guatemalan politics. That’s a worrying development for the September elections, when a president, congress, and local officials will be selected.
It will take a strong and transparent government to put an end to the drug cartels’ reign. Without campaign finance reforms and a stronger political system, elected officials will remain under the influence of those whose goal is to keep the government weak.
In May, 27 farm workers and their families were murdered at the hands of the Zetas, and in June, authorities found the decapitated body of the prosecutor handling the case. These are just two of many incidents that prompted the Guatemalan government to declare a state of siege allowing it to arrest and imprison without a warrant anyone it suspects of being involved in a cartel.
The Zetas and other drug cartels do not discriminate between candidates, their families, and party activists in their fight to control areas vital to their transit routes. The previous polls in 2007 were the bloodiest in decades, with over 60 attacks, including at least 40 assassinations. None of these crimes has been prosecuted.
Compounding this, campaign spending in large cities has skyrocketed in the absence of enforced finance laws. Politicians often wind up indebted to shady business interests and criminals.