How Democratic is Guatemala?

Essay by abbyr85University, Bachelor'sA+, February 2005

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What is Democracy? According to Freedom House, a research organization, which gives country ratings on how democratic they are, gives Guatemala a 4.0 on a scale from 1 to 7. Because of this, Guatemala is considered partially democratic. Gregory Mahler states that there are five characteristics of democracy. These characteristics tell how democratic a country is by means of elections, representation, participation, pluralism, and individual, social, and human rights. Of these characteristics; elections, representation, and participation consider Guatemala to be democratic. On the other hand, Guatemala is democratically lacking in pluralism and human rights. Because of this, Guatemala leans more towards a conservative authoritarian regime.

Guatemala's elections are considered democratic and fair. According to Gregory Mahler an election is a "selection of government elite by mass suffrage with free choice, turnover, and elections at regular intervals" (Mahler). Elections in Guatemala occur every four years and the presidential and congressional elections occur at the same time (World Encyclopedia of Parliament and Legislation, 294).

The elections are decided by a council called the "supreme electoral tribunal" (World Encyclopedia of Parliament and Legislation, 294). The right to vote is shared by Guatemalans because of the universal suffrage law that is in effect. This law states that anyone who is over the age of eighteen, a citizen of Guatemala, not an active member of the military, not a government contractor, not a relative of the president or vice president, or a person convicted of a crime is able to vote in the elections in Guatemala (World Encyclopedia of Parliament and Legislation, 294). The constitution in Guatemala "banned coup leaders from the countries top spot" (Koehl). The elections in Guatemala are very close to that of any other democratic country.

Representation in Guatemala is like a replica of the presidential system. According to Gregory Mahler proper representation in a democracy is a "basis of legitimacy/support is that the people are represented by governing elite through elections" (Mahler). Proportional representation is when there are congressional districts throughout a country and by population it is decided how many representatives are from each district. In Guatemala's case for every 80,000 people there is one representative (World Encyclopedia of Parliament and Legislation, 294). Representation in Guatemala is very democratic and is supported among the people.

Gregory Mahler defines participation in a democratic society as "people have the right to participate and are expected to participate. Access to decision makers is guaranteed" (Mahler). The main challenge in Guatemala is that of getting women to join the political ranks. Many women are still stereotyped and very recent are participating in politics (Women in Parliament, 1). Of the eleven million people in Guatemala, a large number (51.7%) of these people are women (Women in Parliament, 1). The people of Guatemala are not forced to participate in the government and are given the choice to do so in their own way.

Pluralism also plays a part in Guatemala. Mahler says that in order for democracy to be alive with pluralism the country must have "different interests and conflict between those interests are expected" (Mahler). Violence has erupted in the ways of harassment. For example, harassment has been against human rights workers who were fighting for democracy. These attacks have also come against Guatemalans who have been seeking justice for the past abuses they have endured (Wilkinson). The targets of these attacks have been human rights organizations, justice officials, and forensic experts (Wilkinson). This example shows that Guatemala is not democratic. The example above puts Guatemala more in the form of Conservative Authoritarian and because of this, Freedom House gives Guatemala a rating of 4.0. Guatemala meets the criteria for being democratic but some issues keep this country from being free.

Individual, social, and human rights are disputed in Guatemala. Also, Guatemala faces a variety of problems when it comes to human rights. Gregory Mahler defines these rights as the "basic assumption that in society individuals are free, rational, independent entities, born with inalienable rights to life, liberty, and property" (Mahler). Out of the thousands of cases, only two cases have resulted in convictions of senior army officials (Wilkinson). These convictions were of course overturned due to unsure grounds (Wilkinson). Human rights activists are not the only ones loosing their lives. Roman Catholic priests, lay leaders, and Protestants were also killed by the army. Human rights issues are not limited to national violence. They also include discrimination of women. Women are discriminated when it comes to the reproduction status.

Gregory Mahler has five characteristics that he says defines democracy. These include elections, representation, participation, pluralism, and individual, social, and human rights. In Guatemala, three of these characteristics elections, representation, and participation are democratically strong. The lacking of pluralism, and individual, social, and human rights makes Guatemala partially democratic. Guatemala is called a conservative democracy because it shows signs of both Conservative Authoritarian and Democracy.