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Geopolitics

Hard Questions For Ex-Intel Chief Pérez Molina, Likely Guatemala’s Next President

Exclusive: Otto Pérez Molina, the winner of this week’s first-round presidential election in Guatemala, tells Le Monde that he “has nothing to hide and nothing to regret” from his days as the army’s intelligence head during the country’s long civil war.

Otto Pérez Molina in 2007, raising his hand in his party's 'iron fist' salute. (Surizar)
Otto Pérez Molina in 2007, raising his hand in his party's "iron fist" salute. (Surizar)
Jean-Michel Caroit

Retired Gen. Otto Pérez Molina finished first in Sunday's presidential election in Guatemala, earning 36% of the vote in a crowded field. Pérez Molina, a conservative, is favored to win an upcoming Nov. 6 runoff against Manuel Baldizón, a wealthy businessman, who garnered 24% support in first-round voting. If he wins the runoff, Pérez Molina will become Guatemala's first military-trained head of state since the end of the country's 36-year civil war (1960-1996). During the 1980s, the candidate headed the army's powerful intelligence unit.

Pérez Molina's military background and promises of treating violent drug traffickers with an "iron fist" have proven to be political assets in a country with one of the world's highest murder rates. But he also has no shortage of critics, particularly among victims of the countless war-era human rights violations. The civil war claimed an estimated 200,000 lives. Most of those deaths came at the hands of the military, which some historians accuse of authoring Latin America's only 20th century genocide.

Le Monde: You've been accused of committing human rights violations during the civil war, and of being involved in the killing of the guerilla commander Efrain Bamaca. How do you respond?
Otto Pérez Molina: I retired from the army 11 year ago. Right now I don't benefit from any immunity, and the current government has done everything possible to hinder my candidacy by bringing up the issue of human rights violations. But they haven't been able to prove anything at all. They weren't even able to present a formal complaint with evidence in order to force me into the courts. That's simply because at no point did I break the law or violate the rights of Guatemalans.

As far as the Efrain Bamaca case goes, there are two versions. One that was presented before the courts. There was a trial that lasted nine years, and in the end the courts ruled that he was killed in combat. The other version, the one put forth by the guerillas, is that he wasn't killed in combat. But they've never been able to prove that. There was an investigation in which 14 military personnel were implicated. I was never on that list. I was never subpoenaed, not even as a witness during those nine years. I have absolutely nothing to hide. Nor do I regret anything. I went into the region Quiché to defend the population and reestablish peace. The truth is that I am very appreciated and recognized in that region.

Some people worry that your possible arrival to power will result in a militarization of the state. Is there any basis to those fears?
There is no basis. I don't envisage militarizing the institutions in charge of security. Instead we want to professionalize the police. We want to create a university track for officers. Helen Mack a outspoken human rights activist has done excellent work as the head of a committee planning police reforms. It's time to move to the execution phase… They say that I'm going to usher in an authoritarian government because I'm a retired general. There's no basis to that. I respect the Constitution and the laws, and I am going to reinforce democracy.

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FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

Sergey Lavrov, Putin’s Decoy-In-Chief

The Russian Foreign Minister, among the country’s most recognizable figures, embodies both the corruption and confusion of the Putin regime. Not everything is what it seems — and that’s the point.

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov attends a diplomatic reception for heads of African diplomatic missions

Anna Akage

From the outside, one might have the impression that the Russian Federation is run through a highly complex and well-coordinated apparatus that ensures that any single cog in Vladimir Putin’s system is by definition both in synch with the other cogs — and utterly replaceable. The Kremlin appears to us through this lens as an impregnable citadel with long arms and peering eyes that are literally everywhere.

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And yet, this is a completely false picture — and there’s no greater proof than in looking more closely at one of Russia's most prominent figures, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

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