On the eve of the October 25 second-round presidential elections in Guatemala and a month before the Seattle International Foundation’s Donors’ Summit, LatinAmericaGoesGlobal.org’s Chris Sabatini sat down to talk to Manfredo Marroquín. The head of the Guatemala chapter of Transparency International and the president of the board of the NGO Acción Ciudadana, Marroquín will be working with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) to mount a domestic election observation mission for Sunday’s balloting.
- What’s the greatest challenge in Guatemala today? Our country needs to strengthen its institutions. A series of corrupt presidents have left the Guatemalan institutions—and particularly its judiciary—broken, corrupted and dependent on the executive. This institutional breakdown has permitted the impunity of the powerful in the public and private sectors.
- What do you expect will be the outcome of La Linea case? There’s a strong likelihood that now, facing the real prospect of conviction, former Vice President Roxana Baldetti will start to talk to prosecutors and name names. What she says will implicate far more than those who have already been implicated or indicted already—in the government and in the private sector. While some of the most important economic sectors have likely been involved—and may be revealed to be involved—the cases will likely never touch them. For large businesses that pay bribes, at that level they rarely get directly involved; they hire brokers. But you never know. Perhaps those brokers will talk and reveal some of the actual people they were paying bribes for. That would help to expose the complicity of some of Guatemala’s most powerful economic elites in the country’s endemic corruption.
- How do you explain the historic decision of Attorney General Thelma Aldana’s to take on this case? In one word, CICIG [the Comisión Internacional Contra La Impunidad en Guatemala, the independent UN body created in 2007 to investigate cases of state-corruption and collusion with organized crime]. Aldana would never have taken this on if it hadn’t been professionally prepared and publicly presented by CICIG. They basically shamed her into doing it. She couldn’t ignore it.
- What do we know about Jimmy Morales, the lead candidate, as a potential president? Very little. I’ve met him; he’s very smart, but he’s had to assemble a team of people to help him get this far. In doing it, he’s included some military officers—not just any military officers, but military officers with ties to some of the worst abuses of the past. In part, he didn’t know all of the details of the people he was involving. He’s never been in politics before so he just grabbed the people he could. The test will be who he names in a potential future cabinet.
- What do you predict of a Morales presidency? I think it will be short. If Morales isn’t able to respond to the people’s demands for clean government, for more effective government, he won’t finish his term. The people have woken up, and they are mobilized.
- So then, how do you renew political leadership in Guatemala? There is a new generation. It is on the move and we’re beginning to see it. The two candidates now don’t represent it, but, whether in organized civil society or in the new set of civic actors that took to the streets these recent months, people are becoming engaged. It may still take some time, but there’s no going back. We will see a new set of leaders, who better represent popular demands and the population more generally, emerge.
- In anticipation of the Seattle International Foundation’s donors’ summit November 18-19 in San Salvador, what is the role of donors—not just in Guatemala but in the broader Northern Triangle? In many ways the events these past few months in Guatemala demonstrate the importance of donors for the future of the region. Civil society, a more professional judiciary, CICIG… these have come from the financial, operational and moral support of international donors, public and private. It’s an important time to evaluate our successes and assess how to capitalize on them to focus on the next set of challenges—consolidating and strengthening the opportunities and capacity for institutional reform. I’m looking forward to it.