Presidential candidate Sandra Torres, who will face off with Bernardo Arévalo (Semilla Movement) in the upcoming August 20 runoff, is determined to win over the conservative vote in Guatemala. The politician garnered 200,000 more votes than her progressive opponent, and says she’s confident she can compete against anyone.
In her third presidential campaign, Torres won 858,000 votes on June 25, 15% of the total votes cast in the first round. The former first lady’s political career shows a noteworthy transformation from social democrat viewpoints to solidly conservative positions, culminating in her current pro-life stance. One day after the election, she spoke out “in defense of children and families,” an obvious appeal to the supporters of former candidate Zury Ríos, who was knocked out of the race after winning only 6.5% of the vote. Ríos is the daughter of former dictator Efraín Ríos Montt.
In her June 27 press conference, Torres derided Bernardo Arévalo, calling him a puppet of Thelma Aldana and Iván Velásquez (Colombia’s defense minister). Aldana is a former Guatemalan prosecutor who joined forces with Velásquez to investigate dozens of corruption cases in Guatemala for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). In 2019, Aldana was running for president as the Semilla Movement’s candidate, but a constitutional court disqualified her. Bernardo Arévalo is the son of a reformist former president, José Arévalo Bermejo, who was born in Uruguay after his family was persecuted and exiled by a series of military regimes.
“We know where their [the Semilla Movement] funding comes from. We know that their votes came from the MLP [People’s Liberation Movement], CODECA [the Peasant Development Committee], and Thelma Cabrera [an Indigenous human rights defender]. All of them are against family, life and religious freedom,” said Torres.
The MLP and CODECA are at odds with conservative groups in Guatemalan society due to their critical stance on corporate greed and opposition to land concessions for extractive mining and monoculture practices. CODECA, a rural peasant organization, has been subjected to criminal proceedings for alleged electricity theft.
“Arevalo is for same-sex marriage”
“I ask the people of Guatemala to choose the path of life, family, peace and religious freedom,” Torres said in her speech. “The Semilla party and its candidate, Bernardo Arévalo, an Uruguayan citizen, is for same-sex marriage. We respect their views, but we don’t agree with them. Our party will defend Guatemalan children and families.”
Political analyst Luis Mack says Torres is already looking ahead to the runoff, and aims to capture the conservative vote. “She is focusing on religious conservatives and the far right, both of which opposed anti-corruption efforts and foreign interference. That’s why she keeps bringing up Thelma Aldana and Iván Velásquez,” he said.
Mack said Torres is also striving to attract urban voters, a constituency that mostly leaned toward the Semilla Movement. The candidates who were disqualified after the first round are urging the nation to actively engage in the election process. However, they perceive the 17% blank votes as a sign of the electorate’s dissatisfaction with the candidates’ political propositions. Conservative candidate Zury Ríos, who didn’t get enough votes to qualify for the runoff, said the results “clearly express a demand for change that must be addressed.” Roberto Arzú, one of three candidates disqualified by judicial rulings and who urged the electorate to submit blank votes, praised the “anti-system steamroller,” and said, “Votes for Bernardo Arévalo were not based on ideology… but because we are tired of a corrupt system riddled with manipulation and privilege.”
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