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Guatemala elections and drug cartels – also a risk for America

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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.

Weak government unable to confront cartels

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.

September’s elections are the fourth since peace accords in 1996 formally ended the country’s 36-year civil war. While these polls have been credible and free from major fraud, the years since the accords have seen a weak and ineffective government unable to address the country’s issues.

Inequality in Guatemala is among the world’s worst. Malnutrition is rampant in both the indigenous highlands and urban slums. The public does not trust the police and judiciary, both of which are easily corrupted by business elites, drug traffickers, and clandestine groups linked to ex-military and intelligence officials.

Impunity is pervasive, with only a tiny fraction of homicides prosecuted and an even lower percentage of trials for outdated crimes. Guatemala’s electoral campaign is one of the most expensive of the hemisphere, in per capita terms – an insult to an impoverished country.

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