Guatemalans in the US are helping to choose the next President
- US News
- March 16, 2023
- No Comment
When Alejandro Giammattei was elected President of Guatemala four years ago, immigrants living in the United States were able to vote for the first time. In this experimental election, 734 votes were counted at the four polling stations installed in Los Angeles, Houston, New York City and Silver Spring, Maryland – a tiny fraction of the more than 5 million votes cast.
But this year’s presidential election, scheduled for June 25, will again see voting centers in Los Angeles and Houston — the two US cities with the largest number of Guatemalan immigrants — as well as 13 other locations including Miami, Atlanta, Raleigh , NC and Chicago. Guatemalans living in the United States must register by March 25 to vote.
In both Guatemala, a country plagued by violence, corruption and economic inequality, and in expatriate communities in the US, the upcoming election is fueling a multitude of fears. For Alicia Ivonne Estrada, a Guatemalan native and professor of Chicano Studies at Cal State Northridge, they generate fear and suspicion stemming from her experience in 2019 when she went to the local consulate to vote but did not cast a vote could .
“There was an endless amount of bureaucracy that was invented at the last minute, “and they didn’t allow the population that wanted to vote from abroad to do it,” said Estrada, a specialist in her country’s diaspora.
In the coming days, delegations from Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (TSE) will hold registration events on US soil with the aim of expanding electoral rolls and encouraging the participation of the migrant population.
“The importance of voting lies in the power of people to seek the changes they want,” said Ingrid Soto, head of TSE’s foreign voting.
Soto said Guatemalans living in the United States who are still registered as voters in Guatemala must update their addresses, a process that can be done in person during registration or through the TSE’s web portal. To update an address or register for the first time, voters must present a personal identification document, which can be processed at any of the 23 Guatemalan consulates in the United States.
According to the Pew Research Center, based on data from the US Census Bureau, 1.4 million people of Guatemalan descent lived in the United States in 2017. But in the 2019 Guatemalan presidential election, only 63,043 of them were registered to vote.
On March 6, the TSE website reported 86,703 registered voters, a number that reflects both a continued lack of commitment and the limited information released about the election.
“I didn’t know the truth,” said Gloria Méndez, a Los Angeles resident who emigrated 25 years ago from Villa Nueva, a few miles south of the capital, Guatemala City. “The people who are here, if we don’t know anything, we can’t choose.”
Like many Guatemalans, Méndez is generally skeptical, even cynical, about politics.
“All governments promise, they never keep,” she said. “It doesn’t matter whether I vote or not anyway.”
Despite the apathy of many of her countrymen, Elizabeth Urrutia registered in January. The young mother, who came to California three years ago, said she studied law before leaving Guatemala. Later, after starting her own business, she became a victim of one of the racketeering rackets plaguing the Central American country, forcing her to emigrate.
“I only asked my country for a chance, but there was none,” she lamented.
When she fled Guatemala with her first child, Urrutia was pregnant. With the elections approaching, she has been thinking of the loved ones she left behind. She believes the ongoing problems the new government will face — job shortages, the rising cost of basic necessities, insecurity created by drug cartels — make it important for Guatemalans to register.
“We all have the right to vote and cast our vote,” she said.
In Los Angeles, 29 registration tables will be distributed among four voting centers. Guatemalans in San Francisco, San Diego, New York City, Atlanta and Houston can also vote at polling stations near their homes.
“We have yet to see the final count of registration,” said Hugo Mérida, who set up voting centers and recruited volunteer workers. “For every 600 people, there must be an extra table. In Los Angeles we want to set up 29 tables because there are around 50,000 people on the register.”
Mérida said that since taking office on February 13, he has doubled down on establishing and staffing the centers, which are overseen by regional electoral boards. Organizers of the campaign rally say they need about 900 volunteers.
“Our mission is to bring the polling stations as close together as possible,” Mérida said.
After voting closes on June 25, each vote will be counted by the Electoral Boards under the supervision of TSE staff. This information is then sent by computer personnel to the TSE headquarters in Guatemala City.
Cal State Northridge’s Estrada stressed that the TSE and the conduct of the elections are controlled by a corrupt system and that historically the elections in Guatemala have not been transparent. Whether that ever changes depends in part on this year’s result.
“These elections are about going back to the 1980s, where you saw massacres, enforced disappearances and military repression,” Estrada said.
“Voting is important, but we must keep organizing and fighting for justice in Guatemala,” she added.