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Nebaj Peacefully Re-Elects Pedro Raymundo Cobo

I came to Nebaj to help with photographing an observation project during the town’s re-election on January 10. It was a special election, uncommon because it was not being held with the national presidential elections, and already it had been rescheduled twice because of veying political interests. I did not know what to expect, but it was my job to photograph the election and to also work with observers to teach them to document any irregularities with photography.

Nebaj is in the Ixil triangle, a indigenous region in Northern Guatemala which was the focus of international news in 2013 because of the genocide trial against former-dictator Efraín Rios Montt, who led a violent counter-insurgency campaign in the region in the 1980s against Leftist guerrillas. Ríos Montt’s 18 months as Guatemala’s dictator is considered the bloodiest of the country’s 36-year civil war and his “scorched earth” policies resulted in mass killings and displacement of many indigenous people, especially the Ixíl-speaking people in the Nebaj and surrounding areas.

In 2011, Guatemala held its national presidential elections along with its municipal mayoral elections. Nebaj elected its mayor as Pedro Raymundo Cobo of the UNE-GANA – winning with 12,202 votes against the competing Patriot Party candidate Virgilio Geronimo Bernal. The win came amid much controversy because Bernal’s name did not appear on the ballot and Bernal filed legal complaints against the omission of his name on the ballot. He requested an annulment of the mayoral elections and after a long legal battle a new round of mayoral elections was scheduled for Nebaj first in December and then in January when Cobo changed political parties.

When I arrived on Friday, two days before the election, there was a significant police presence in Nebaj and the numbers continued to grow. More than 350 police had been summoned to Nebaj by the government in anticipation of any violence from the election’s results and the U.S. Embassy in Guatemala City sent out an alert to American citizens in the region warning them of imminent conflict.

In downtown Nebaj, black Guatemalan National Police pickups rolled into town by the dozens filled with mattresses (boding overnight stays) and armed agents, anticipating civil disorder around the special elections. The streets were active and the interaction between police and citizens seemed friendly despite the massive police mobilization.

Both candidates, Cobo, and Bernal campaigned before the election in quite different ways which was telling. Cobo walked through town after voting, greeting people, and shaking hands, and then was surrounded by hundreds of supporters. He wore the traditional red vest and white hat of the Ixil region which is typical dress of the region. He held a lunch and rally at his home, with hundreds of supporters who pressed around him, and eventually, moved to a smaller room to meet with advisors and press. Bernal’s pre-election campaign was similar, though he wore a traditional business suit, and travelled around Nebaj waving from the back of a pickup truck, with a seemingly equal number of supporters following and cheering. While divided, the citizens of Nebaj were certainly participating and engaged in the election process.

The observation training was held on the second floor of the Mercado de Artesanías in the heart of Nebaj’s central market. The city had given us use of it for this public project. More than 60 observers, an even number of men and women, many of them in their early 20s filled the room to capacity. In order to get the photos I needed, I even had to walk on desks to maneuver around the room. Throughout the day, volunteers were trained on the basics of electoral observation and how to send SMS texts to a centralized website to report their findings. The mood was upbeat and the participants were enthusiastic. Matilde Terraza, the coordinator of Observe Nebaj Project, and Marvin Pol, of Accion Cuidadana were efficient in training the observers and the seemingly endless logistics of an election observation project, including assigning people to poll tables, distributing identifications, and travel money. Long after volunteers had been trained, Matilde and Marvin pored over logistical details in the emptied room.

On election day, I began my day by taking pictures at the municipality building where turnout was more than I expected as voters lined up for blocks outside the building. Lines of police in black uniforms, many armed with automatic weapons stood by. Men and women in traje tipico of the Ixil region waited patiently in the registration lines all day, having brought most of their family with them. When approached for interviews, many of the people were eager to talk, more to show their inked thumbs as proof they had taken part in the process. As a journalist I was permitted to enter the voting center, which was also where all the votes from the region would be counted.

Inside the municipality, the counting process was underway in a slow, but methodical way with ballots being brought in large plastic tubs from different parts of the region. Word around town was there would be no solid results until late in the night.

Around midnight it became clear that enough votes had been counted to determine Cobo would hold his seat. From my hotel room at Villa Nebaj I heard bullhorns and saw a crowd moving quickly through the street in the center of town. A torrent of people, including older women ran quickly, carrying plastic stools above their heads, cheering. I ran at nearly a full sprint to keep up with the crowd which made its way towards Cobo’s house. Thousands pushed through the metal doors of his house and filed into a large open space where a stage had been put up with flatscreens showing the election tally. I made it on the stage just in time to hear Cobo’s victory speech. Several times while taking photos, I had to change lenses because the amount of people created humidity to the point that my lenses fogged and I had buttons torn from my shirt while other photographers pushed for their shot.

Back at the hotel Marvin and Matilde and a few other observers tallied reports from the observers at 75 polling tables. There were very few irregularities and the numbers coincided with the TSE’s conclusion that more than 80 percent of the municipality of Nebaj had voted with no official reports of corruption or voter manipulation. The Guatemalan press reported minor confrontations and there were no demonstrations against the results. Despite the long, slow legal battle surrounding the elections, the democratic process, as I witnessed it, took the form of a peaceful election.

El proceso electoral en Nebaj está atrapado entre procesos legales y políticos

Las elecciones de Nebaj se han trasladado para el 12 de Enero de 2014 como resolución final del Tribunal Supremo Electoral. Las elecciones planificadas para el 15 de diciembre inicialmente se había aplazado para el 26 de Enero de 2014 , dado que uno de los candidatos, el señor Pedro Raymundo Cobo quién ganó las elecciones en el año 2011 decidió cambiar de partido político y solicitó al Tribunal Supremo Electoral aplazar las elecciones un mes con el objeto de promover el logo de su nuevo partido político TODOS con el cual va a participar en la elección a alcalde municipal. El TSE aprobó dicha solicitud y aplazó la elección para el 26 de enero de 2014.

Esta decisión de aplazar las elecciones generó molestias entre varios candidatos a la alcaldía de Nebaj, quienes solicitaron a la Corte Suprema de Justicia el no aplazamiento de las mismas y obtuvieron una respuesta favorable. Esto generó mucha incertidumbre en el municipio ya que con este amparo a favor emitido en la tarde del 14 de Diciembre daba paso libre para realizar las elecciones el día 15 de diciembre, y por cuestiones de confusión de información entre la Junta Electoral Municipal ya no se realizó la elección. Algunos pobladores de Nebaj vinieron a manifestar ante el Tribunal Supremo Electoral para pedir la pronta realización de las elecciones por lo que se estableció como nueva fecha de la elección el Domingo, 12 de Enero de 2014.

¿Cómo está Nebaj?

Internamente la tensión se incrementa en el municipio entre los simpatizantes del Partido Patriota y el Partido TODOS. Ya que han llegado varios camiones con bolsas de alimentos en las comunidades con el objeto de comprar votos. Lo más reciente fue en la aldea Pulay. Los pobladores del municipio informan que los simpatizantes del Partido Patriota se caracterizan por ser muy agresivos y violentos. Hasta ahora van dos personas agredidas físicamente por tratar de documentar la presencia y evidenciar la procedencia de dichos camiones con bolsas de alimentos. El Tribunal Supremo Electoral emitió un comunicado el 20 de Diciembre de 2013 llamando a la mesura a la población de Nebaj para que se pueda llevar a cabo un proceso electoral sano.

Continuaremos informándoles sobre la situación actual en Nebaj.

Otros reportes se pueden ver aquí:

Nebaj’s Re-election Trapped in Legal Proceedings

Nebaj’s re-election has now been moved to January 12, 2014, after a final decision from the Supreme Electoral Court. The elections planned for December 15 were initially postponed to January 26 because one of the candidates, Pedro Raymundo Cobo, who won the election in 2011 changed his political party and asked the Supreme Court to postpone the elections a month. He asked for this postponement so that he could promote his new political party logo and position. The Supreme Court approved the request and postponed the election for January 26 in the new year.  As a reminder to readers: while opposing candidate from the Patriota Party, Virgilio Bernal, requested the repetition of the election itself, the deferment of the election is now due to a request from Cobo who was the original winner of the first election held on September 11, 2011 during Guatemala’s general elections.

This decision to postpone the election concerned several candidates running for the mayorship of Nebaj. The candidates requested this postponement be cancelled before Guatemala’s Supreme Court. The Court agreed? These legal procedures have confused residents of Nebaj because the decision to cancel the postponement was issued on the afternoon of December 14th, one day before  the re-election was initially scheduled. There was little to no information provided regarding the postponement. Residents travelled to Guatemala City to demand that the Supreme Electoral Court (TSE), the entity in charge of elections, to issue an earlier election date to the one originally planned. So now the election will be held on Sunday, January 12, 2014.

Residents of the municipality report that the tension between supporters of the political parties is increasing and there have been cases of reported violence. Two people were physically hurt while trying to report illegal acts take by some political parties in order to buy votes.

The Supreme Electoral Court issued a statement on December 20, 2013 calling for the town of Nebaj to remain calm in order to carry out a peaceful electoral process.

Other reports can be viewed here:

We will continue to inform you about the current situation in Nebaj. You can follow our updates here:

On Twitter: #observenebaj

Nueva disputa legal aumenta las tensiones por comicios en Nebaj

16 de diciembre 2013

Fuente: La Hora

En un comunicado de prensa miembros de sociedad civil, simpatizantes del Partido Patriota (PP), señalaron de “fraude electoral” que el TSE no haya realizado las elecciones en el municipio de Nebaj, pese a que un juez ya había dado la orden para que se celebraran los comicios.

El amparo fue interpuesto por el candidato a jefe edil de Lider, debido a que el pasado lunes el Tribunal anunció que se postergarían los comicios de dicho lugar hasta el 26 de enero del 2014, como resultado de un amparo interpuesto por la agrupación política TODOS.

Esto porque según el secretario departamental, Carlos López, de TODOS, necesitaban más tiempo para hacer campaña, en vista de que el actual alcalde de Nebaj, Pedro Raymundo Cobo, ya no participaría representando a la UNE-Gana, sino al partido TODOS.

Miembros del Partido Patriota, como de TODOS se señalan de realizar tráfico de influencias con jueces y los magistrados del TSE.
De acuerdo a López, el Partido Patriota hizo uso del tráfico de influencias con los jueces de la comuna de Villa Nueva para que de forma inmediata le otorgaran el amparo y aseguró que los diputados del PP dijeron a los pobladores en Nebaj el pasado viernes, en el cierre de campaña, que “a toda costa” los comicios se iban a realizar el pasado domingo.
Por su parte, Jimmy Ren, diputado del PP en Quiché, señaló que el partido TODOS está haciendo tráfico de influencias con los magistrados del TSE y que estos les favorecen al mantener firme que se realicen las elecciones el próximo 26 de enero.
En cuanto a este conflicto el delegado auxiliar de la PDH, en Nebaj, dijo que a pesar de que existen ocho partidos participando, sólo se ha visto roces y señalamiento constantes entre simpatizantes muy allegados al candidato del PP, Virgilio Bernal y el de partido TODOS, que es Pedro Raymundo Cobo.

Para Leer Más =>

My video about the observation project I’m coordinating

I just finished a video telling the story of why I am organizing an observation project for Nebaj’s election. You can watch it here: