'We all have the right to choose': Guatemalans in US will help select next president

Soudi Jiménez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Political News

LOS ANGELES — Four years ago, when Alejandro Giammattei was elected president of Guatemala, immigrants living in the United States were able to vote for the first time. In that experimental election, 734 votes were counted among the four polling stations that were installed in Los Angeles, Houston, New York City and Silver Spring, Maryland — a tiny fraction of the more than 5 million votes cast.

But in this year’s presidential contest, scheduled for June 25, there will be voting centers again in Los Angeles and Houston — the two U.S. cities with the largest number of Guatemalan immigrants — as well as in 13 other locations including Miami, Atlanta, Chicago, and Raleigh, North Carolina. Guatemalans living in the United States have until March 25 to register to vote.

Both in Guatemala, a country wracked with violence, corruption and economic inequalities, and in expatriate communities in the U.S., the upcoming elections are stirring a host of anxieties. For Alicia Ivonne Estrada, a Guatemala native and professor of Chicano Studies at Cal State Northridge, they give rise to fear and mistrust deriving from her experience in 2019, when she went to the local consulate to vote but wasn’t allowed to cast a ballot.

“There was an endless amount of bureaucracy that was invented” at the last minute, “and they did not allow the population that wanted to vote from abroad to do so,” said Estrada, a specialist in her country’s diaspora.

Delegations from the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, or TSE, of Guatemala will hold registration events on U.S. soil with the aim of expanding the electoral rolls and promoting participation among the migrant population.

“The importance of the vote lies in the power of the people to seek the changes they want,” said Ingrid Soto, head of the TSE’s foreign vote.


Soto said that Guatemalans living in the United States who still are registered as voters in Guatemala will need to update their addresses, a process that can be done in person during the registration or through the TSE’s web portal. To update an address or register for the first time, voters will need to produce a personal identification document, which can be processed at any of the 23 Guatemalan consulates in the United States.

According to the Pew Research Center, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2017 there were 1.4 million people of Guatemalan descent living in the United States. But in the 2019 Guatemalan presidential elections, only 63,043 of those were registered to vote.

As of March 6, the TSE website reported 86,703 registered voters, a figure that reflects both a continuing lack of engagement as well as the limited information that has been released about the election.

“I didn’t know the truth,” said Gloria Méndez, a Los Angeles resident who 25 years ago emigrated from Villa Nueva, a few miles south of the capital, Guatemala City. “The people who are here, if we don’t know anything, we can’t vote.”


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