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Elections 2019

Meet the Candidates: Guatemala

Two months out from Guatemala's election, it's still unclear who will be allowed on the ballot.
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Argentina | Bolivia Guatemala Panama | Uruguay | Full List

See above for a breakdown of Latin America's other 2019 transitions, and check back here for updates throughout the region's busy election season. 

Election Date: June 16

Format: Two rounds. If no candidate receives more than 50 percent of votes in the first round, the two leading candidates will compete to a run-off on Aug. 11. 

Thelma Aldana, 63, former attorney general
Seed Movement

“It's not normal for a president or vice president to be corrupt. Young people understood this. But we had to convince other segments of society.”

How she got here: Aldana became attorney general in 2014, and quickly exceeded expectations by taking on powerful interests. Aldana’s office was critical in the case that brought down President Otto Pérez Molina with support from the UN anti-corruption body CICIG. She’s running for a new center-left party founded by anti-corruption activists. Legal questions have jeopardized her candidacy, including a call for her arrest over an alleged fraudulent hire she made as attorney general. After successfully registering as a candidate, the country’s electoral court then rejected her bid, which the Supreme Court later upheld. The legal threats have kept Aldana in El Salvador in recent weeks, and she was briefly detained when attempting to enter Honduras on April 11. Her candidacy’s last hope is an appeal to the Constitutional Court.

Why she might win: Aldana has the broadest support among different sectors of the population and across socioeconomic strata. Many would vote for her solely as a vote against corruption.   

Why she might lose: Legal uncertainties and international engagements have kept Aldana out of the country in recent months. She’s not well-known outside the capital, isn’t a politician and doesn’t have a strong party. As attorney general, she made a long list of enemies who will try to stop her — including some in the business world.

Who supports her: Young voters and the urban middle class.

What she would do: Aldana describes herself as right-wing, but is running for a big-tent party. She has promised to bring back a stronger, better funded CICIG. As a judge, she made justice for survivors of gender violence a priority.


NOTE: AQ asked a dozen nonpartisan experts on Latin America to help us identify where each candidate stands on two spectrums: left wing versus right wing, and nationalist versus globalist. We’ve published the average response, with a caveat: Platforms evolve, and so do candidates.

Sandra Torres, 63, former first lady
National Unity of Hope

“No more confrontation, no more polarization, no more divisions. Guatemala needs national unity.”

How she got here: As the wife of former President Álvaro Colom, Torres won supporters and critics for taking an influential role in supporting state social programs. This is her third shot at the presidency. Because the constitution bars sitting presidents’ spouses from running to succeed them, the couple divorced in 2011 so she could run. A top court nevertheless rejected that candidacy, but she was able to run in 2015 and finished second to Jimmy Morales.

Why she might win: Torres leads the polls in a field of over 20 candidates. She is well-known and her party, unlike others, has a national structure that will benefit her.

Why she might lose: Weighed down by political baggage, Torres has the highest rejection ratings among candidates. Like the other two frontrunners, her candidacy is in legal jeopardy. She’s currently under investigation by the attorney general’s office for alleged campaign finance violations during her 2015 campaign.  

Who supports her: Business and local government — mostly mayors but also a few governors and deputies. Her stronghold is with rural voters who benefited from the social programs she organized during her husband’s government.

What she would do: Long a center-left politician, Torres’ ideology is now less clear. She has promised her social programs will return if she’s elected. 


Zury Ríos, 51, former deputy
Value Party

“My father is my father. I love him. I respect him. But he was president in the last century. The person running for president this century is me.”

How she got here: First elected at 27, Ríos served four consecutive terms in Congress. She is the daughter of Efraín Ríos Montt, the military dictator who took power in a coup in 1982 and was convicted in 2012 of genocide.

Why she might win: Ríos has made many allies in more than two decades in politics. Many think it’s unfair to judge her for her father’s sins. She could pull conservative evangelical voters away from weakened parties on the right, including Morales’ ruling party. 

Why she might lose: Guatemala’s constitution prohibits family members of coup leaders from running for president. Guatemala’s top electoral body rejected her candidacy earlier this year. Currently Ríos is campaigning pending a final decision from the constitutional court.

Who supports her: Conservative elites and the military. Under her father, rural areas were militarized, and there are still networks in place that Ríos Montt’s allies have sought to mobilize.

What she would do: As a legislator, Rios advocated for laws on topics including sexual health, tobacco use prevention, and the rights of women, children and people with HIV/AIDS. She has since moved toward the right. Rios’ campaign slogan is her promise to “put Guatemala in order.” Appearing first on her list of policy proposals is to instate the death penalty.


Alejandro Giammattei, 63, doctor and former executive
Let's Go for a Different Guatemala

“There are efforts to judicialize politics or politicize the judiciary. These have only led to a disenchanted population and weaker institutions.”

How he got here: A doctor by profession, Giammattei has previously unsuccessfully run for president three times and twice to be mayor of Guatemala City. He was general coordinator of Guatemala’s electoral board in 1985, 1988 and 1989 and has experience in the private sector as well. More notoriously Giammattei was director of Guatemala’s penitentiary system when a police operation to take back control of a prison ended in the deaths of seven inmates. An investigation linked him to the abuses and he went to prison for 10 months before ultimately being exonerated for lack of evidence against him.

Why he might win: Polls show Giammattei is well-liked among voters who recognize his name. He could draw Rios’ voters if she is ultimately unable to compete.

Why he might lose: Giammattei was absolved of his role in the prison massacre in 2012, but the controversy still follows him. He has run four times with four different parties, and could be seen as someone who just wants power.

Who supports him: The military elite and social conservatives.

What he would do: His past campaigns have stressed security and proposed iron-fist solutions to crime, and he’s said he’d restructure the national civil police, increase the number of soldiers, and build new prisons to address overcrowding. He has been a critic of CICIG, but hasn’t taken a side on whether as president he would reinstate it.



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Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, Elections 2019, Thelma Aldana

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