Elections and Organized Crime: 4 Takeaways

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Results are mostly in for mayoral, gubernatorial and presidential elections in Argentina, Colombia and Guatemala held October 25. Violence was low, but the specter of organized crime remains central to the region’s political dynamics. 

Below are four election takeaways: 

1) Polarization and Militarization

Candidates from extreme ends of the spectrum fought for control of these countries’ governments.

In Guatemala, the comedian-turned-presidential candidate Jimmy Morales beat social-democratic candidate Sandra Torres, with the help of his right wing, military-backed party, the National Convergence Front (Frente de Convergencia Nacional – FCN).

Argentina is scheduled for its first ever run-off vote in November after leftist candidate Daniel Scioli failed to secure a 45 percent majority. Scioli will face center-right Buenos Aires mayor Mauricio Macri. 

In only one case, Colombia, did election monitors link political differences to violence, including six murders and a disappearance.

Despite these political differences, the region’s largely militarized approach to security issues will likely remain unchanged as it is the favored method amongst both conservatives and liberals to deal with rising crime and violence.

In Central America both the left-wing El Salvador government and the right-wing Honduran government have deployed military brigades domestically to tackle gangs and organized crime, as has staunchly socialist Venezuela and more neoliberal Mexico.

Although militarized security polices are often linked to human rights abuses and their effectiveness in decreasing violence is debatable, these policies play well with voters and make politicians appear responsive to security issues. 

2) Guatemala’s New President is in a Vulnerable Position 

Guatemala’s latest elections were colored by the resignation of Otto Perez Molina from the presidency over connections to a customs agency scandal, as well as corruption allegations against several presidential candidates

This context helped President-elect Jimmy Morales win in a landslide. Cynicism towards national politics also resulted in low voter turnout but may have also blinded people to Morales’ woeful lack of experience: he has never held public office. 

Paradoxically, this lack of experience may make him more susceptible to corrupting influences. In order to effectively navigate Guatemalan politics, Morales will need experienced people in his administration — the very same people whose experience may make them adept at plundering the government under his watch. 

It’s also worth noting Morales’ military connections. The FCN party that backed him was founded by a military veteran’s association. While being connected to the military is not evidence of corruption, military officials have a history of participating in Guatemalan corruption networks, including in the recent customs agency case. His future choices in cabinet members and ministers will better indicate his true intentions and the degree of influence the military wields over him. 

3) Argentina Run-Off and the Nisman Case

As the handpicked heir to two-term Argentina President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Scioli’s second round chances may be affected by lingering accusations of Argentine prosecutor Alberto Nisman. 

Nisman, who was investigating the 1994 bombing of an Israeli community center in Buenos Aires, was found dead the day before he was to testify in front of congress. The Kirchner administration’s mishandling of the investigation into Nisman’s death aroused accusations of a coverup and government impunity.  

SEE ALSO: Coverage of Argentina

In a late-breaking development, imprisoned Colombian drug trafficker Henry de Jesus Lopez, alias “Mi Sangre,” has come forward claiming to have information on the case. With only a month until the run-off, any new information linking the Kirchner administration to Nisman’s death could hurt Scioli by association. 

Either way, Argentina is likely to see an increase in militarized security efforts. Scioli has previously suggested the government reexamine a ban on deploying soldiers in police roles, and both candidates are in favor of shooting down suspected drug flights.

4) Colombia Criminalization of Local Politics

Colombia’s recent gubernatorial and mayoral elections highlighted the criminalization of local politics. While the infiltration of criminal groups into Colombia’s municipal-level politics has arguably diminished, the underworld continues to exert its influence in various ways.

In addition to the pre-election violence, the election cycle was tarnished by a reported vote buying scheme, the election of a mayor who has been arrested and accused of misappropriating land seized from drug-traffickers, and the mayoral victory of Oneida Pinto Perez, who has been accused of links to Juan Francisco “Kiko” Gomez, an ex-governor arrested in 2013 for alleged ties to criminal groups and multiple homicides

SEE ALSO: Colombia News and Profiles

This criminalization of local politics is evident not only in Colombia but throughout the region. Witness Mexico’s “narco-mayor” in Sinaloa state and the recent arrest of a mayor in Guatemala accused of embezzling over $1 million in municipal funds

As InSight Crime has previously noted, municipal-level governments are particularly vulnerable to bribery and intimidation by organized crime, a trend which is likely to continue.  

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