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 election

2 noviembre
I've joined a book group - a group of women reading books by women. I thought it would be a good way to meet some Guatemalans not associated with the school. The group meets monthly, and includes an architect, an artist, a craft shop owner, an embassy health care worker, wife of the American ambassador (her son is one of my students), a public relations consultant who used to be a counselor at my school, two therapists and a librarian. Several of the women are from other Latin American countries, one is from Germany, some from the US. We just finished reading The Blindfold's Eye, Sister Dianna Ortiz's book about her torture in Guatemala and the frustrating attempts to hold someone accountable. Many different points of view from people who were living here at the time. A fitting discussion leading up to the election.

Next Sunday is the presidential election. There have been many opposition candidates and activists in the various departments (states or provinces) killed in the past weeks and months. No political murderers ever seem to be found and brought to trial here. You may have heard of four journalists kidnapped most of last week by a group of ex-paramilitaries demanding pay for their service. During the war, many men from small villages were captured by the military and pressed into service to "protect" their villages. In many locations, they are reputed to have been responsible for atrocities on behalf of the military. The current government (with Rios Montt as an important force) has promised them payment. The amount they are to be paid has dropped considerably, and many more men are claiming eligibility than are believable. The payment date has been put off and is now this Thursday, just a few days before the election. Will they be paid at all? Will they be bought for votes? Montt's people have been giving away fertilizer and other freebies in the countryside.

The polls are saying the front runner is Oscar Berger, a conservative bureaucrat and former mayor of Guatemala City; second is Colom, a leftist and member of a coalition demanding justice for human rights violations during the war; Rios Montt is a strong third. A 50% vote is required to win or there will be a runoff election later in the year. Hundreds of observers have been trained. Monday, the day after the election, has been declared a national holiday. Everyone is expecting turmoil this weekend.

10 noviembre
Guatemaltecas are breathing a sigh of relief this morning. There will be a runoff election between the two front runners for the presidency since no one candidate got 50% of the vote, but it will not include Rios Montt. In early counting, Berger, a conservative businessman and former mayor of Guatemala City, won 47%, Colom, with the leftist coalition, came in at 27%, and Rios Montt was third with only 11%. His share was low enough that violence is not expected at this point, however his group is claiming election fraud (of course). The democratic process worked, with very little incident. Everything was quiet today.

11/48

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