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Dec 20, 2018

A Different Approach to the Referendum Campaign in Guatemala

In the months before Guatemala’s referendum in April this year, a number of non-governmental agencies took the lead in a “YES” vote campaign.  One private sector group, however, had to seek legal opinion for them to be allowed to campaign for a “YES” vote. This is because of the laws in Guatemala.  Earlier this week, while in Guatemala, I discussed the matter with the relevant stakeholders. 

Marleni Cuellar, Reporting

One of the unique aspects of the Guatemalan referendum has been the separation of their campaigns. There was a budget of three hundred million quetzals of public funds allocated to this process. But, none of it could be used to advocate for a particular result.  Pablo Hurtado, Executive Secretary of the Guatemalan think tank, ASIES, explains.


Pablo Hurtado

Pablo Hurtado, Executive Secretary, ASIES

“First the three hundred million quetzals that took the consultation process; all of it wasn’t spent. But most of what was spent was on organizing the election, not necessarily on a campaign. In factm there was criteria by the Electoral Supreme Court in Guatemala that it wasn’t allowed to anybody to do campaign in this process even if it was for YES or NO. It was a weird criteria, but it was accomplished by everybody.”


It was explained that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs did spend on an education campaign with separate funds. They campaigned to voters to participate in the referendum. The Tribunal Supremo Electoral campaigned on how to vote much like Belize’s electoral body. It was the eventually the private sector and the N.G.O.’s that eventually campaigned for a yes.


Carlos Amador

Carlos Amador, President, CACIF

“There was no certainty that you could make a YES or NO campaign for a vote, so CACIF went to Tribunal Supremo Electoral and asked exactly for a definition of what can and cannot be done and the ruling from the tribunal said any interested party can do the campaign that they wish—be it YES or be it NO.”


Pablo Hurtado

“First, we were involved in the process. We worked with the Foreign Affairs Minister in sharing important information, but we at ASIES, as well as other organizations, we promote the vote for YES. It was a prohibition for public servants and political operatives; not for us since we are an N.G.O.”



“Were there people lobbying for a “YES” or “NO” vote?”


Gerardo Ramirez

Gerardo Ramirez, PR Officer, TSE

“In the case of “NO” vote, we are not aware of anybody. In the case of the “YES” vote, there were groups of people who campaigned in favor of “YES.”



“And the government’s position?”


Gerardo Ramirez

“The government informed the people of the issue, inviting them to come out to vote.”


But for journalist, Cindy Espina, a political reporter for El Periodico, the government campaign did not appear to everyone as unbiased; something that, CACIF says, could have been expected.



“How did you view the campaign that was conducted by the government? Was it partial, impartial towards a “YES?”

Cindy Espina

Cindy Espina, Political Reporter, El Periodico

“I always heard the president, I think, the campaign from the government was like that. I think that that is the reason the people go vote in that way. You know a government, it’s always partial. We don’t expect impartial opinions from a government, as a journalist. We expect their opinion.”


Carlos Amador

“It was kind of a mixed feeling because the TSE said clearly – to the government, to the cancilleria – that you cannot make a campaign for “YES” or “NO” vote; just go out and say participate. The funny thing is what the cancilleria was doing was state policy—we want to define our borders. So well we didn’t linger too long on that. We let the TSE say well the government cannot extenuate an opinion. But the cancilleria was clearly saying what we are looking for is to have a final say in all these issues. And everyone obeyed; everyone played by the rules and you had the outcome.”


That outcome was a clear “YES” with ninety-six percent of about one point seven million voters voting “YES” to taking the Guatemalan claim on Belize to the international Court of Justice.

Viewers please note: This Internet newscast is a verbatim transcript of our evening television newscast. Where speakers use Kriol, we attempt to faithfully reproduce the quotes using a standard spelling system.

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