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All Elections are Local, Part 2
November 5, 2007

The New York Times has reported that Álavaro Colom has won the Guatemalan presidential election, held yesterday. His opponent, General Otto Perez Molina, conceded defeat late last night. With 96% of the polling stations reporting, including those from all of the general's strongholds, Mr. Colom holds a lead of 52.71% to 47.29%. It is expected that his lead will only grow as votes from the countryside, where he was expected to enjoy sizable majorities, are reliably counted.

As I've noted in previous postings (see my Weekly commentaries for 9-17-07 and 10-22-07), this election has been extremely violent, and it may very well decide whether Guatemala repels the power of the narco gangsters who act with impunity (due to ties many enjoy with former military officers and other socially well-connected parties), or whether it descends into further chaos. Pérez Molina promised a get-tough stand against crime and the aura of impunity in which it operates, but as former head of the military's intelligence division, he drew suspicion for involvement in his own human rights abuses during the war--for which he and all others have received full immunity from the government--as well as implications that he was involved in trafficking himself, as well as the murder of Bishop Juan Gerardi. Colom was not considered a strong candidate even by many of his supporters, but many Guatemalans feared the return to quasi-military rule that a Pérez Molina presidency would represent. Meanwhile, in the background, there lies the immanent battle between the crime syndicates and the UN's Commission for the Investigation of Illegal Bodies and Clandestine Security Apparatus (CICIACS), as well as civil suits generating in Spain and elsewhere against former military leaders charged with crimes against humanity (which trump national grants of immunity).

Time will tell for Guatemala, but there is reason for hope due to the exemplary courage demonstrated by a growing collation of human rights workers and other champions of justice.

On a much smaller and less bloody scale, the notion of courage also figures in tomorrow's election here in my own home town (see my Weekly commentary for 10-08-07).

I wrote the following letter to the Vallejo Times Herald in response to a piece profiling the local candidates for mayor and city council in light of a contentious labor dispute. The stakes are high, due to the threat of bankruptcy looming over the city, due to contracts with the police and firefighters that are not sustainable. Adding to the tension are recently disclosed abuses of paid leave by certain leaders of the firefighters union (click here or here).

Dear Editor:
In his Sunday analysis of the candidates for Tuesday's election ("Labor disputes are key issue in Vallejo vote") J.M. Brown chose curious turns of phrase to describe the see-no-evil stands of mayoral candidates Cris Villanueva and Osby Davis, as well as city council candidates Darrell Edwards and Oscar Estioko. The use of descriptives such as "temperate" and "above the fray" to typify stances that in truth avoid the elephant in the room of this campaign—the ballooning public safety union contracts and the corrupt practices of certain union leaders, as described in this very paper the same day by Mr. Brown himself—confuses aversion with discretion.

Mr. Brown suggests that candidates Gary Cloutier, Tony Pearsall, Joanne Schivley and Lou Bordisso should somehow be faulted for standing up to the unscrupulous leaders of the firefighters union, men who have tried their best to buy this election and have egregiously abused their positions—again, as revealed by Mr. Brown the same day in this very paper. Are we supposed to believe that courage is a fault? The confrontation of corruption and abuse of power is a political virtue, and if it gets, well, confrontational - and how could it not?—that's hardly the fault of those taking on the blameworthy. That's like faulting cops for using force when they've been fired upon.

Candidates who try to ride the fence to enhance their own political fortunes when a battle for this city's integrity and financial viability is at issue aren't demonstrating aplomb or leadership. They're trying not to get their noses bloody when that's exactly what the city they claim to love so much needs from them. The impending bankruptcy looming over Vallejo will devastate this city in ways Mssrs. Villanueva, Davis, Edwards and Estioko (let alone the firefighters triumvirate of Pitts, Wilson and Hannigan) have never seriously addressed. And it won't be averted by empty platitudes or by being a swell guy. It will be averted by city officials who have the spine to take a stand and not back down—who demonstrate real courage, not complacent accommodation.

There's a difference between remaining "above the fray" and dodging the issue. And the issue in question couldn't be more important—who has the courage, the determination, the moral clarity and the intelligence to stand up to those who think the city of Vallejo is their cash cow, and will do anything—tell any lie, mislead anyone who will listen—just to keep the money flowing into their own pockets.

Now more than ever what this city needs is leaders with backbone and integrity. The candidates who have demonstrated these virtues in spades are Gary Cloutier, Tony Pearsall, Joanne Schivley and Lou Bordisso. Vallejoans should reward that courage with victory on Election Day.

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