LATIN AMERICA

“When you do politics in Guatemala you risk being assassinated”

Comedian Jimmy Morales won the first round of presidential elections on Sunday Speaking to EL PAÍS, he says he hopes the popular movement will accompany him in office

Jimmy Morales, pictured wearing the Guatemala national soccer team jersey.
Jimmy Morales, pictured wearing the Guatemala national soccer team jersey.E. F. (AP)

Jimmy Morales is light-hearted and euphoric when he meets with EL PAÍS. He is wearing the national soccer team’s jersey – “I follow them wherever they go” – and is smiling as he eats a chocolate muffin on the ninth floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel. A few hours ago, Guatemalan authorities officially announced him as the winner of the first round of this year’s presidential elections. He is the great surprise in Latin America right now. Morales rose in the polls and then won by a fluke, propelled by the civil unrest over the corruption scandal that toppled former President Otto Pérez Molina and his vice president, Roxana Baldetti.

The 46-year old evangelical theologian is the anti-establishment candidate, the comedian with the easy jokes, who may become Guatemala’s next president. Exultant, Morales answers questions with aplomb and sometimes can sound a little like a preacher.

Question. Are you aware that you won the first round due to a protest vote?

Answer. Absolutely. A high percentage was a vote to punish the other parties. This makes me want to commit to the cause and not disappoint those voters.

They can trust my past. I don’t have another. I have been an honorable working man. People know where my wealth comes from”

Q. Do you support the popular protest movement?

A. Yes, from the bottom of my heart. I visited them once when they were in chains. I went there quietly and I brought them water and food without anyone noticing.

Q. Why didn’t you go there openly and join them?

A. Because it is a citizen movement, not a political one. And I was a presidential candidate. And if I had joined in openly, people would have thought that I was trying to ride the wave for political gain.

Q. What kind of future do you see for this movement?

A. They have already brought about the resignation of the president and vice president and now the justice system has to do its job. I hope the movement continues, participates in politics and that it accompanies us in the next administration. Guatemala has suffered from a lot of political indifference. It has let its leaders do whatever they wanted.

Q. And how can Guatemalans trust that if you win you won’t be corrupt like your predecessors?

A. They can trust my past. I don’t have another. I have been an honorable working man. People know where my wealth comes from.

Q. You have been a theologian, an economist, and a TV comedian. What else do you feel you are?

A. I feel like I am an manager. The artist is my brother. My greatest achievement is the financial success and management of our projects.

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Q. And what’s left of your comedic past?

A. It has given me a lot of morals…

Q. Morals? That was the name of your show, right?

A. My life in comedy has taught me that comedy is very serious. It allows us to communicate great ideals in a friendly manner.

Q. Speaking of ideals, what do you think of abortion, homosexual marriage and the legalization of marijuana production?

A. I don’t support any of those three. In the case of same-sex marriage, I reject it because I don’t believe in that, and because 97 percent of Guatemala has a Christian mentality. Approving a law like that would lead to social unrest.

Q. And marijuana?

A. Guatemala is not like Uruguay. This country is a transit area and it should have regional consensus when it comes to these issues. What’s more, this disease has destroyed our healthcare system. If there were to be more addiction [here], we would not be able to face it.

Q. Abortion.

A. It is not conducive to Guatemalan mentality.

Q. Are you religious?

A. I am an Evangelical Christian. My faith comes from the Baptist Church. I believe in freedom of conscience.

Q. And don’t you think your religious beliefs might interfere in your work as a politician if you become head of state?

A. The law is the law and the president must obey it.

Q. And how would you treat former President Otto Pérez Molina?

My life in comedy has taught me that comedy is very serious. It allows us to communicate great ideals in a friendly manner”

A. Let the appropriate process move forward and let justice be done. Guatemala believes in the presumption of innocence. If he deserves prison, let him go to prison.

Q. You have been accused of having links to military hawks, with the toughest and most violent sectors.

A. That is not true. That’s a smear campaign. The party was founded by retired military officers but they left it. Now it’s a group of middle class people, even though there are some ex-military officers just like in other parties.

Q. First measure you will take if you win?

A. Redesign the national budget to focus on healthcare, education and economic development.

Q. This is a very violent country. Have you ever gotten scared?

A. Yes. I have been mugged. They opened the door of my car and robbed me at gunpoint. I was scared.

Q. And in politics?

A. When you’re in politics in Guatemala you risk your own life, or that of a relative. I have received death threats. You have to be brave to face that. I was scared but I am not a coward.

Q. Do you carry a weapon?

A. No. My only weapon is the word.

English version by Dyane Jean François.

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