Corruption Plagues Guatemala as Presidential Vote Nears

Guatemala-Elections.jpgGuatemala, a Central American country just south of Mexico and about the size of Tennessee, gets a new President Sept. 6 but to most of the 15 million impoverished inhabitants life will go on as usual - meaning corruption at the lowest and highest levels.

Bribery, theft and homicide-related scandals have plagued this republic for the past 40 years. Local residence suspect that will be the status quo for the next four years at least after current President Otto Pérez Molina leaves office. Guatemala law bars him from running for a second term.

If there is no clear winner on Sept. 6, a runoff election will be held Oct. 20.

With an estimated 60 percent of Guatemalans classified as dirt poor, candidates running for office in September will have a field day as they attempt to buy votes, especially in rural areas. Candidates in the past have promised bags of groceries, fertilizer or even just a single meal for a voter's support.

Seven million Guatemalans over the age of 18 are eligible to vote. The country has scored a remarkable 59 percent turnout over the years, mostly thanks to timely and needy gifts from candidates.

Besides the election of a new president, voters will also mark their ballots for a

Vice President, as well as for all 158 Congress deputies, all 20 deputies to the Central American Parliament, and mayors and councils for all 338 Municipalities in the country.

It's a brazen political circus that occurs every four years in this country made up of largely illiterate inhabitants. The politicians like it that way.  Even those with abominable voting and criminal records seem to win votes at election times.

For example, take the case of disgraced former President Alfonso Portillo, who returned to the country in February after serving a prison sentence in the United States for conspiring to use U.S. banks to launder $2.5 million in bribes from the Taiwanese government.

Seventy-five percent in a supposedly legitimate newspaper poll said they probably could still vote for him despite the stigma of Portillo being an ex-convict.

In a comparable corrupt situation, former Vice President Roxana Baldetti was forced to resign as a result of a massive customs fraud scandal uncovered by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.

But another large newspaper-directed poll recently showed 95 percent of respondents would still consider voting for her.

A new combined magazine and television poll showed right-wing populist Manuel Baldizón still leading in the Presidential race. But his popularity is beginning to diminish as some voters now suspect Baldizon's administration would turn out to be just as corrupt as President Otto Perez Molina's.

The poll showed 34.5 percent of those surveyed would vote for Baldizón, while 12.9 percent would vote for center-left National Unity of Hope party candidate and former First Lady Sandra Torres.

 A surprising 10.4 percent said they would vote for comedian Jimmy Morales, of the tiny and under-funded FCN party.

Maybe U.S. Republican Party presidential nominee candidate Donald Trump ought to throw a bone to Morales and show him how even an anti-establishment candidate can compete with the big boys.

And that's how it is at this moment.

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