Guatemala’s blackface president

Jimmy Morales, Guatemala's new president, is basically a proxy for the country's very powerful lobby of rightwing former military men.

Jimmy Morales as blackface character, Black Pitaya.

Jimmy Morales is an Evangelical Christian and a former TV star who has never held public office. He is also the new president of Guatemala. In the second round election held on Sunday, Morales defeated Sandra Torres – the wife of former president Álvaro Colom – with 68% of the votes.

The president-elect, who defines himself as an “Evangelist theologian,” ran on a very conservative ballot, supporting the death penalty, while opposing same-sex marriages, abortions and the legalization of drugs. He also sought to rally around nationalistic sentiments. He was often seen wearing a Guatemala National Soccer Team jersey at political rallies, and spoke about annexing an area comprising of most of neighboring Belize (which Guatemala has claimed since 1946).

But last week’s vote had little to do with the candidates’ ideological positions. Morales campaigned under the slogan “Not corrupt, nor a thief,” and positioned himself as “the outsider” candidate. This was not a minor feat, as creating some distance from the established political class of the country was crucial to defeat win these elections.

Just last September, amid mass protests opposing him, then president Otto Pérez Molina was stripped of his immunity, forced to resign and sent to jail over a corruption scandal. Morales, who had been campaigning since last year, had a surge after Pérez’s resignation, as many people preferred to vote for a self-styled non-politician than for a former First Lady.

But Morales’s party, the National Convergence Front (FCN) is linked to Pérez’s Partido Patriota and, as InSight Crime reports, it “was formed in large part by former military personnel from the right-wing Guatemalan Military Veterans Association (Asociacion de Veteranos Militares de Guatemala – AVEMILGUA).” These are the same military men who, according to The Nation, promote “impunity for past and contemporary military abuses.”

So Morales just might not be the independent leader Guatemalans were looking for. And, since only 35% of registered voters in the country actually cast their vote last weekend, his presidency might be just as frail as his predecessor’s in terms of its legitimacy.

It won’t be helpful for the president-elect either that the foreign press and public have been taking note of his troubled relationship with the different ethnicities of Guatemala.

Morales rose to fame by starring along with his brother Sammy in the TV show “Moralejas,” in which he played, among others, a blackface character nicknamed “Black Pitaya.”

Morales has also been criticized by indigenous groups for his portrayal of them, and has been reluctant to speak out about the genocide of Ixil Maya people during the country’s long civil war.

What’s more, Morales’s right-hand man Édgar Ovalle Maldonado, a member of AVEMILGUA, was accused by NSA documents of being part of the Army’s Ixil Special Force Task in the early 80s. During that period, thousands of Ixil Mayans were killed, tortured and raped — 77 massacres were recorded. And although Ovalle has not been linked to these crimes, his presence in the government might influence how future inquiries into these events unfold.

Morales will begin his four year period January 14, when he can begin to prove if he is actually the anti-politician he claims to be.

Further Reading

The skeleton in the closet

The novelist Nadifa Mohamed complicates Britain’s troubled, racist legal history through the personal tale of one otherwise insignificant person, a Somali immigrant to Cardiff in Wales.

Life to the sound of gunfire

Nigerians fleeing extremist violence at home take refuge across the border in Niger among an already fragile population. Together they proceed to carve out a way to live better lives for now.

Democraticizing money

Cameroonian economist Joseph Tchundjang Pouemi died in 1984, either poisoned or by suicide. His ideas about the international monetary system and the CFA franc are worth revisiting.