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In Guatemala, another dictator's daughter
As in much of Central America, the 1980s marked a brutal period for Guatemala. Amid the civil war a military junta headed by Evangelical dictator Efraín Ríos Montt, backed by the Reagan administration, conducted a reign of terror against the indigenous Mayan population. Ríos Montt was eventually tried for war crimes, with prosecutors going as far as to charge him as a genocidaire.
Efraín died in 2018. Now his daughter Zury Ríos is seeking his former job, appearing at or near the top of a series of polls for next year’s presidential election. Guatemala has a run-off, but if it weren’t for constitutional prohibitions against the kin of coup leaders running, some would call her the front-runner.
Zury has tried to run before. In 2019, judges blocked her on the aforementioned grounds, but the issue is up for debate again in 2023. Even if she’s denied, though, her polling preeminence is indicative of the Guatemalan right’s comfort with its authoritarian legacy.
It’s by no means an unfamiliar story. Around the world, children of dictators have staked out strong support for themselves on the basis of their heritage. Earlier this year, the Philippines saw the former despot Ferdinand Marcos’ son elected president alongside Sara Duterte, the progeny of their more recent authoritarian experience.
Peru is another example that comes to mind. Keiko Fujimori has run for president thrice now, with successive failures. But it’s her hardened base of Fujimorista voters that has pushed her through into the second round each time.
All of this is woven into a global theme of right-wing nostalgia. Elsewhere in Latin America, figures like Chile’s Kast and Brazil’s Bolsonaro explicitly whip up memories of their countries’ long-gone dictatorships. Blood relatives of autocrats just have the best claims to succession.
Populism Updates reached out for quotes on the Zury Ríos story:
“Fancies herself a classical liberal but always behaved as an authoritarian following her father's streak. Debate over the constitutionality of her participation is still ongoing. Rumor has it that even if the constitutional court favors her, the government will leave her out via the general accounting tribunal not giving her the all clear. She would beat the government candidate if the election was to be clean. If they do let her, and she does win, you can expect a heavy-handed authoritarian that's not afraid to use the state to further her development vision and silence dissent.” – Alessandro Mecca, professor and contributor to Guatemala’s El Periodico
“My guess is that democratic erosion and the general loss of faith in democracy has gone so far in Guatemala, that many might be willing to overlook Ríos’ history and vote for her... Personally, I also find this trend of children/relatives of some of the continent’s old dictators (Ríos, Fujimori, Bordaberry, etc.) shamelessly running for the same office their relatives used to reign fire on their own people absolutely infuriating, and a sad piece of evidence of the failure of democratic transitions in Guatemala and Latin America.” – Francisco Pérez, communications manager for the International Service for Human Rights
“Zury Ríos is one of the candidates linked to the regime of authoritarianism, corruption and impunity that prevails in Guatemala. Her party has been an ally of the current government in Congress. Even so, she seems not to enjoy the confidence of the regime, and they’ll probably deny her candidacy due to constitutional impediments. If she was elected president of Guatemala it would not imply progress for the country.” – Román Castellanos, deputy of the Guatemalan Congress for Semilla