GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala’s largest military veteran organization endorsed presidential candidate Sandra Torres Tuesday after battling her during her first two bids for the presidency, showing just how far her progressive opponent’s surprise place in the runoff has shaken the country’s politics.
Torres and her hosts at the Guatemalan Military Veterans Association painted her opponent Bernardo Arévalo as a threat to the country’s democracy and families.
As she did during their first debate the previous night, Torres criticized Arévalo for not really knowing his country because he was born in Uruguay when his father, former President Juan José Arévalo, was in exile after the CIA-backed overthrow of his successor Jacobo Arbenz.
“Today more than ever Guatemala is in danger,” Torres said, warning that Arévalo would dissolve the army, legalize same-sex marriage and expropriate private property. “We don’t want communism in Guatemala.”
Arévalo, a lawmaker, academic and former diplomat, has not said he would do any of those things, but the threat played well with the veterans in the crowd, who cheered and chanted in response. Arévalo shocked observers when he won the second spot in the runoff during a first round of voting June 25, because his Seed Movement party had been polling at less than 3%.
Guatemalans will vote Sunday for Torres, who lost in runoffs twice already, or for the newcomer Arévalo.
Retired Col. Edwin González said the association represents some 380,000 veterans across Guatemala. “We’re talking about an important electoral force,” he said.
When asked why the association was now praising Torres after working against her during two previous campaigns, González said she was the “better option.” Torres has drifted rightward since her days as first lady in the center-left government of her then-husband Álvaro Colom.
“Today we’re at the point where we have two candidates and one is a threat,” González said referring to Arévalo’s Seed Movement.
The top threat, he said, was the possibility of same-sex marriage. Another its that a number of Guatemalan veterans have been prosecuted for war crimes during the country’s 36-year civil war and they are concerned an Arévalo administration could push more.
“Once again the veterans are coming out to save our country and if we have to go back to what we were before (active duty) to defend Guatemala we’re going to do it,” González said.
But not everyone listening was convinced.
Seated at the back of the open patio where Torres spoke, Antonio Hernández López said he liked Torres’ proposals to do more for veterans and protect Guatemala’s conservative values, but said he would spend more time thinking about it and discussing it with his family before deciding who he will vote for Sunday.
The retired 57-year-old army nurse said he liked that Torres appeared to be the opposite of Arévalo, but he didn’t believe everything she was saying about her opponent, recognizing it as “politics.” He also doubted whether Torres would really help veterans even if she wanted to, because such aid would have to pass congress.
The about-face by the veterans’ association also wasn’t lost on him.
“It’s ugly,” Hernández said.