Elections and Democracy in Central America - Vol. 8

By John A. Booth; Mitchell A. Seligson | Go to book overview

4 The Guatemalan Election of 1985 Prospects for Democracy

Robert H. Trudeau

I f democracy is defined strictly in terms of elections resulting in a civilian president, there is now democracy in Guatemala. But in spite of official optimism in both Guatemala and the United States, there are troubling and persistent reports that the civilian government may have much less power than other institutions in the country and that human rights violations continue to be a salient feature of daily political life. In other words, the degree and nature of democracy is being questioned. More important, future prospects for Guatemalan democracy are uncertain; we need to ask if recent elections are helping to increase (or, in an apparent paradox, decrease) the level of democracy there.

Guatemala's recent elections were not held in a vacuum; the historical, economic, and political context must be part of any comprehensive analysis. This chapter undertakes to sort through a wealth of contextual, and often contradictory, information on Guatemala's military forces and their central role in the political process, with the hope of clarifying the relationships between recent elections and future prospects for democracy in Guatemala.

Guatemala's recent history includes several examples of elections and of vigorous party activity. Some of these elections were fraudulent, for example, the imposition of General Laugerud in 1974 and the attempted imposition of General Guevara in 1982. Other elections were honest, including the 1945 election of Juan José Arévalo, the 1966 election of Julio Méndez Montenegro, and the 1985 election of Vinicio Cerezo, all of which are discussed in this chapter. Yet through it all, even during the reformist civilian administration of Méndez Montenegro, the underlying thread has been the growth of the political and economic power of the military officer corps relative to other organized sectors of society. Understanding Guatemala's 1985 elections, therefore, reinquires an examination of the development of the Guatemalan military's role in the political economy.

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