Multiparty Politics in Post-Conflict Guatemala: A Qualitative Assessment 

Papelete TSE 2015

The official ballot for President and Vice-President in the 2015 Guatemalan General elections included 14 participating parties. Source: Soy502 and the Tribunal Supremo Electoral de Guatemala

Posted by Vaclav Mašek, MA Candidate at NYU’s Center for Carribbean and Latin American Studies. This post was written in the spring of 2018, based on research funded by the Tinker Grant. 

Following a 36-year armed conflict, which culminated with the Acuerdos de Paz Firme y Duradera (“Peace Accords on Long and Lasting Peace”), Guatemala’s transition to democracy signified the beginning of free and open elections. A new Constitution came into effect in 1984, and twelve years later, the Peace Accords made the ceasefire official between the insurgent guerrillas and the Guatemalan armed forces. While today the strengthening of the political institutions in the country has shown little progress in accountability and transparency—4 out of the 5 last presidents have been accused or sentenced in high-profile cases of corruption—, a lively multiparty system has emerged: in 1995, 19 parties contested in the presidential election, although only one party remains active until today. Twenty years later, in 2015, 14 political parties participated in the presidential contest, where the winner was candidate with no prior experience in public administration running on a party that had never succeeded in having members elected to any position in government.

A particular trend seems to have consolidated in this dynamic process of political alternation: no single party has gained enough traction to secure continuity in the executive. More surprisingly, as the 1999, 2003, and 2015 Guatemalan elections show, some parties that have proved successful in winning the presidential ballot have disappeared from the political map. Populist tendencies, exercised through the practice of clientelism to gain the voter’s gratitude in exchange for a vote, seem to have co-opted both sides of the ideological scale.

May the combination of a multiparty system and a presidential system be inimical to stable democracy in Guatemala? What effect does this have in the way the political system is organized and political parties created? How does the myriad options affect the way Guatemalan citizens cast their vote—and how they do politics in general?

Between March 6th and March 17th, 2018, I travelled to my home country’s capital, Guatemala City, to interview a dozen of engaged Guatemalans. Individuals featured include prominent scholars and political scientists, journalists and political commentators, former statesmen and current government bureaucrats, and activists and lobbyists, whom I talked about issues related to Guatemala’s multiparty system.

The Interviews

On Party-Building

I first met with Roberto González, the 2015 presidential candidate for the Compromiso, Renovación y Orden (CREO) party, who affirmed that creating a political party in Guatemala “is easy”—less than 23,000 signatures, or 0.3% of the registered voters, are required to form a political party. Moreover, González affirmed that parties are “mere vehicles to contest” in elections, since the electors vote for the candidate, and feels “no attachment to the party.” This latter statement was later echoed by several of my interviewees. Prof. Jonatan Lemus of the Universidad Francisco Marroquín’s Instituto de Estudios Políticos y Ciencia Política (UFM-EPRI) and the Escuela de Gobierno (EdG) stated that it is “costlier to run with an old brand than to create a new one.” Adela Camacho de Torrebiarte, the first female Minister of Interior and 2011 presidential candidate for the Acción de Desarrollo Nacional (ADN) party, related the ephemeral life cycle of a party to the “lack of political formation of cadres within party ranks, resulting in an incongruous ideological identification every four years.”


Interview with Prof. Jonatán Lemus. March 14th, 2018.


Interview with Adela Camacho de Torrebiarte. March 16th, 2018.

On the Burden of the Armed Conflict

From a historical viewpoint, the executive director of ProJusticia, a coalition of justice initiatives Carmen Aída Ibarra, suggested that the “uncontrollable proliferation of unstable political parties begun in 1995”, when a “new electoral regime” took control of Guatemala’s political dynamics. 19 political parties participated in said elections—a national record at the time. Other interviewees, like former Minister of Foreign Affairs Carlos Raúl Morales, affirmed that the unstable party politics we see today in Guatemala are due to the “unaddressed grievances” from the internal armed conflict from 1960 to 1996, which started being fought on “ideological ground but later turned into an economically-motivated belligerence”.

Prominent urbanist and former candidate for Vice-President Enrique Godoy (@QuiqueGodoy) promptly pointed out that post-bellum Guatemala remains the Central American country with the highest ethnic population—“most of which is economically deprived”—now living under a “corporatists’ democracy.” Carlos Amador, former head of the Comité de Asociaciones Agrícolas, Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras (CACIF), emphasizes the nonsensical nature of the conflict, where the left-wing guerrillas only caused “unnecessary pain to the people of Guatemala without achieving anything.”


Interview with Carmen Aída Ibarra. March 13th, 2018.

Masek & Morales

Interview with Carlos Raúl Morales. March 15th, 2018.


Interview with Carlos Amador. March 13th, 2018.

On the Prospects of Constitutional Change

There have been several proposals made to change these structural ailments that continue to weaken democratic institutions in the country. Óscar Chinchilla, the former president of Guatemala’s legislative chamber, the Congreso, made an allusion to the failed Constitutional reforms of 2016 by pointing out that “self-proclaimed nationalists”—a group composed mainly of far-right politicians—were to blame for the failed consensus since they “aimed to dilute the [Congress’] quorum at any cost.”


Interview with Óscar Chinchilla. March 13th, 2018.

On Ideological Affiliation among Guatemalans

On the question of how to determine ideological affiliation, former human rights ombudsman Jorge de León commented that for the Guatemalan context, three debates are key: “death penalty, abortion, and the individual freedom (the economy).” Radio host from Emisoras Unidas and accountability and transparency activist for the Guatemala Visible organization Marielos Fuentes added “the State’s involvement and stance on human rights as a globalizing doctrine” as other two key components in measuring ideological affiliation. Radio host from Radio con Criterio and outspoken journalist Juan Luis Font suggested that ideological affiliation is “an act of self-definition in terms of prestige—to be right-wing and conservative is to differentiate oneself from all which is indigenous or native.” He concluded by stating a provocative thought: Guatemalans “operate on a profoundly colonial idiosyncrasy.” UFM Professor and co-founder of the Red Ciudadana movement Marielos Chang concurred with this view, stating that the institutional tradition of the country can be traced back to a colonial heritage.”


Interview with Jorge de León. March 13th, 2018.

Masek & Fuentes

Interview with Marielos Fuentes. March 15th, 2018.


With the Con Criterio radio show hosts, Pedro Trujillo and Claudia Méndez, following an interview with Juan Luis Font (third, left to right). March 14th, 2018.

Following Steps in Research

The interviews conducted in Guatemala elicited candid commentary on Guatemala’s fascinating political system: its rich history, its dynamic environment, its pivotal players. The qualitative component of my research will surely be benefitted from these 12 interviews, which add a privileged vantage point into party politics and governance in the country. On-site and in-person interactions are able to convey the most vivid images of the social world. By engaging with Guatemalan individuals who are active in the country’s political sphere, the series of intricately connected networks that cut through race, class, religion, and gender become more evident.

Throughout the following months, I will compile theoretical texts to frame the findings from this experience to create a comprehensive literature review, touching upon the determinants of party ID and self-determination of ideology in a left-right spectrum in emerging democracies. I will also finalize my thesis’ statistical analysis, improving the arguments by adding a quantitative element to the research. Using data from the 6 Latin American Public Opinion Project (LAPOP) polls from 2006 to 2016, I will be analyzing the evolution of party identification and ideological leaning of voters in Guatemala.

Further Readings:

Ahmed, A., & Malkin E. (2015). Otto Pérez Molina of Guatemala Is Jailed Hours After Resigning Presidency. The New York Times. Retrieved from

Alper, A., & Pretel, E. (2015, Oct. 25). No Joke: Guatemalan comedian wins presidency in landslide. Reuters. Retrieved from

Goldman, F. (2015, Sep. 4). “From President to Prison: Otto Pérez Molina and a Day for Hope in Guatemala” The New Yorker. Retrieved from

Grandin, G. (2000). Class Struggle and K’iché Nationalism. The Blood of Guatemala: A History of Race and Nation. Durham: Duke University Press.

——————. (2004). The Last Colonial Massacre: Latin America and the Cold War. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

——————. (2005). The Instruction of Great Catastrophe: Truth Commissions, National History, and State Formation in Argentina, Chile, and Guatemala. The American Historical Review, 110(1), 46-67.

Lupu, N. (2015). “Partisanship in Latin America.” The Latin American Voter (eds. Carlin, R., Singer, M.M., & Zechmeister, E.J.). University of Michigan Press.

Mainwaring, S. (1993). “Presidentialism, Multipartism, and Democracy: The Difficult Combination.” Comparative Political Studies, 26(2), 198-228.

Taylor, M. (2017, Jun. 19). Lessons from Guatemala’s Commission Against Impunity. Council for Foreign Relations – Civil Society, Markets, and Democracy Program. Retrieved from

Weld, K. (2014). Paper Cadavers: The Archives of Dictatorship in Guatemala. Raleigh: Duke University Press. Print.

WOLA. (2015, Jul. 1). The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala: A WOLA Report on the CICIG Experience. The Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Retrieved from


Spotlight on Brazil this Week at CLACS

On Thursday, March 22nd CLACS will be hosting two events that will bring a spotlight on Brazil.  First at 12:30pm, Professor Marcos Cueto (Casa de Oswaldo Cruz and Visiting Scholar at the the David Rockefeller Center for Latin American Studies at Harvard University) will be presenting a lecture titled “Brazil, Aids, and Global Health, 1996-2008.” In 1996, Brazil was the first country in the world to provide full and free access to antiretrovirals as part of a broad prevention and treatment health program. This decision was challenged by powerful pharmaceutical companies.  Cueto’s presentation will discuss the meanings and vicissitudes of universal access to antiretrovirals in global health at the turn of the 21st century and will be followed by a Q&A session with the scholar.

To RSVP for this event click here.

The same evening at 6pm, we will be hosting Um Filme de Dança, a film directed and produced by Carmen Luz. The film is a pioneering documentary on the history of Brazilian dance. Filmed in four major Brazilian cities and in New York, this documentary shows the personal histories, philosophies and work of some of the most active black creators of dance in Brazil. It celebrates the perseverance of black dancers and choreographers of different generations and the black body’s dominion over its own dance. Organized by NYU Cinema Studies PhD candidate Léonardo Cortana, the screening will be followed by a panel discussion with the Brazilian filmmaker Carmen Luz, Columbia Ethnomusicology PhD candidate Maria Fantinato, and performer Autumn Knight. This event is co-sponsored with the NYU Institute of African American Affairs, NYU Leadership Initiative and NYU Cinema Studies.

To RSVP to this event click here.

Un filme de danca



Image source: Instagram (Casa Adela)

By Melissa Fuster, PhD, Assistant Professor in Public Health Nutrition at Brooklyn College – City University of New York (CUNY) 

It was a hot and humid August morning. Adela sat in the back of her restaurant, peeling potatoes, with only a small fan to appease the heat. The TV was tuned to Telemundo, with Elvis Crespo singing for Monica Puig, the Puerto Rican tennis player who days before had just won the first gold medal for the island at the Olympics in Rio. Pepe, a mutual friend and local community leader, introduced us. She smiled, turning back to her potatoes and television show. By the time we arrived, she had already been working for a couple of hours, making the necessary prepping for the day’s service. The smell of garlic, mixed with oregano and onion, forming the sofrito base, filled the air announcing to regulars and passersby that something delicious is being prepared. We sat at her table, and Pepe got the conversation started by asking Adela about her early days in the city.

Adela first came to New York City in 1971 for a visit. Back then, she worked as a seamstress in Puerto Rico, later transitioning to working with her mother, selling fiambreras (lunch boxes) to factory workers. She moved to New York City around 1975. When I asked why she moved, she replied with a smile, “Ese salto lo da todo el mundo que quiere progresar” [That leap is made by everyone who wants to progress in life]. Upon arrival, she worked as a cook, but quickly transitioned to establishing her own place. She rented her first restaurant, El Caribe, on the West Side, which she later bought from the Cuban owner. When the building was condemned, she moved her business to the Lower East Side, where she later established Casa Adela in 1976. While an exact timeline of life events and places was not specified, the one thing that was clear while talking with her was the entrepreneurial success. At one time, she recalled owning three establishments, with the goal of passing two of them to her children. However, she ended up selling two of them, with her children being actively involved in the running Casa Adela today.

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The Politics of Black Hair in Havana: Reflections on Sisterhood and Diaspora Solidarity


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August 2017 Hair Natural Hair Conference – Hair model from Mariano, Cuba

Posted by Moriah Ray, MA Candidate at NYU’s Center for Carribean and Latin American Studies. This post was written in the summer of 2017, based on research funded by the Tinker Grant. 

In the Summer of 2015, I had the opportunity to study abroad in Havana, Cuba for three months. To prepare myself for my journey, I did what many black women do in preparation for travel; put my hair in braids. This is one of the multiple popular protective styles that black women commonly use for travel because they are low maintenance and last a long time. I assumed that this style would last me through the three months, but with the hot Havana heat, they did not last as long as expected. Before I could even get my braids out multiple women asked me for the extensions that were used to braid my hair. The first two times I was asked I assumed I misunderstood the women. How would my braiding hair be of any use to them? In the U.S when women take out their braiding extensions they normally throw the hair away. I told them that I could not give them my hair but when my Mom came to Cuba in September I would ask her to bring some. I continued to get stopped and asked about my hair. Who did it? Could they use the hair when I take out the braids? Could I do their hair? My hair connected me to diverse black women throughout Havana. I got their numbers and promised them I would return with packs of hair. After two long months, I ended up taking out my braids. I gave my hair to a close friend of mine who was thrilled to have it. She is still using it now, two years later!

I went to the Centro Comerical in Nuevo Vedado, one of the few “shopping centers” in Havana, to look for some hair products to do my hair. I wrongfully assumed that in a country that is majority black there would be hair products catered towards black women’s hair. There was absolutely nothing. The majority of the products had keratin chemicals to “treat” natural curls. After the centro comerical failed me, I looked in the “black market” stores I knew about, but found nothing. Discouraged, I asked my friend what she used in her natural hair to moisturize it? She told me that she used “cocinero,” a brand of cooking oil! How on earth did black women manage to maintain their natural hair in Cuba? 

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Rebelling and Resisting

Posted by Michelle Hurtubise, MA Candidate at NYU’s Center for Experimental Humanities. This post was written in the summer of 2017, based on research funded by the Tinker Grant. 

When I said I wanted to go to a protest against Michel Temer this summer a mentor gently said, well just stay on the fringe.  Or in other words, this is Latin America young white one, you have no idea what you’re getting into.  I cared, I wanted to witness, what did it mean to protest in Rio de Janeiro?  There had been many a protest in New York in my recent past and I was curious.  Let’s just say that while I may be skittish, good thing I’m not a cat. 

I was surprised by a few things June 30, 2017.  One, what a great idea to sell drinks and snacks at a protest! Everyone gets hungry and needs a beer once in a while.  Two, seasoned journalists knew how to wear their riot gear as well as the police, only the press were the ones wearing blue helmets.  Three, you are never too old for more stickers. Four, fireworks thrown at police is a very effective scattering method. Five, do not be an undercover policeman discovered in a protest, ever. Six, tear gas does in fact make you cry.  But it wears off pretty quick. Seven, trash cans are usually removed from the path of the protest so as to decrease the amount of readily available material to set on fire. Eight, the sound of glass being shattered repeatedly can be oddly soothing in contrast to things exploding. Nine, I am definitely afraid and way out of my small sphere of limited existence.  Scaredy cat, check! Ten, I have never had something at stake in the same way these courageous Brazilians have.


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Strength at Posto 9

Posted by Michelle Hurtubise, MA Candidate at NYU’s Center for Experimental Humanities. This post was written in the summer of 2017, based on research funded by the Tinker Grant. 


Photo by Michelle Hurtubise

I was sitting on Rio de Janeiro’s rightly famed and beautiful Ipanema Beach, crafting lofty academic thoughts while humming Antônio Carlos Jobim’s “The Girl from Ipanema” when I heard clapping.  I looked around, thinking someone was performing and could not find the source.  As more and more people began to stand up clapping, I too kept my energy focused on an unknown event.  Something was happening.  I stood up.  And then I saw where everyone was looking, a tiny happy boy was perched on someone’s shoulder, raising his toy word high in the air.  His skinny arm was straight and strong, raised in a triumphant gesture of confidence. The clapping got louder and louder until a man trailing a few other kids in tow calming walked up and the tiny boy climbed down for a hug.  A family was reunited.  The clapping turned into a few happy cheers and then everyone went back to their beach chairs, beer, and high academic musings.  I stood stunned, tears stinging my eyes as I witnessed something normal to the people of Posto 9 at Ipanema.  

As I sniffled I thought how easily the community here could transcend language and class, culture and borders and help a lost child out with a simple clap.  And why not? Posto 9 has a history of being a gathering place for liberals and countercultural movements, but a friend also said this kind of clapping happens all over Latin America. After all, it is the most logical, easy, and cost effective solution.  Forget fear and shaming, isn’t it more productive to NOT instill fear in a lost child or shame the parent when these things happen all the time and with no ill intent?  When everyone gathered together, the solution was simple and clear.  Just clap, people will look, and everyone gets to share in the joy of reunion.  Never before have I seen such a instinctual, genuine, and collective responsibility for the young.  No one tried to pass the responsibility off to another, no one had any fear of being held responsible for someone else’s problem.  Higher authorities were not turned to for a solution, the little boy was not handed off to the Police.  And a child learned that he had neighbors, he had people he could turn to who would actually help him.  He belonged.  He knew the land was his, the people were on his side, and while things new seem as simple when we are grown, for a moment he was the center of a movement.  Where the state often instills a culture of fear and shame, the community overcame and the people stood in joy.  In five minutes my whole notion of what is possible was turned on its head, and I was so grateful to be in Latin America where people graciously showed me more truly is possible.


Photo by Michelle Hurtubise

Maré at Night

Posted by Michelle Hurtubise, MA Candidate at NYU’s Center for Experimental Humanities. This post was written in the summer of 2017, based on research funded by the Tinker Grant. 


Photo by Michelle Hurtubise

My day started sleepily, having fended off an annoying mosquito all night.  I was gathering my strength, ready to encounter an unknown world, putting on first world makeup on to cover the bites when I heard the twerp again.  Oh I was ready.  Slap, blood, and thank goodness the mirror I hit with all my morning force didn’t shatter.  As I wiped up the mess I had the odd thought that I was cleaning up my own blood.  Forget about the mosquito, poor me.  I just spilled my own blood.

Recently I had seen BOPE (Special Police Operation Battalion) roll their tanks through the Maré Favela in Rio de Janeiro.  A school had closed because when a fire had started in a wastebasket, the firemen refused to come put it out.  They feared the favela.  So they called the police.  When BOPE rolled in, the community knew there would be trouble.  And then the shooting started.  So a school closed for the day because someone was scared to put out a fire in a wastebasket.  The tanks rolled by, and fanned the flames higher and higher and then bullets flew.

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