Guatemalan presidential candidates campaigning in the US

Michael Ahn Paarlberg,  a Ph.D. candidate in political science at Georgetown University, has a post at The Monkey Cage on “This is why the two leading candidates for Guatemala’s presidency came to the U.S. to campaign.” The post builds on his dissertation which looks at “diaspora influence on politics in Mexico, El Salvador and the Dominican Republic” to help interpret why candidates from Guatemala have been campaigning in the US even though those Guatemalans in the diaspora cannot vote.

In sum, diaspora campaigning doesn’t necessarily win politicians votes from either migrants or their relatives, who probably already favor one side or the other. But communication between migrants and relatives more likely reinforces existing partisan attitudes within families. Those relatives might be more motivated to go out and win votes among neighbors and friends. And yet even if they don’t, politicians will continue to campaign abroad, because the perception that migrants have such influence persists.

And in politics, perception is everything.

Mexicans living in the US tend to vote for the PAN over the PRI. They have negative memories of PRI rule, one of the main reasons many of them left. In the case of El Salvador, the diaspora heavily favors the FMLN. That’s because they fled government violence committed against the civilian population during the war. Presidential candidates don’t win over voters in the US. The voters’ loyalties were fixed prior to their leaving their home countries.

However, I don’t know what to think in the case of Guatemala residing in the US can’t vote. Parties raise some money here, I believe, but their fundraising and campaigning activities in the US are not as extensive as those of Salvadoran parties. And really, none of today’s political parties existed when many of them left Guatemala. The PAN and the URNG have the longest political histories of any existing political parties. Perhaps there’s less campaigning here (if there is) because fewer strategists and parties think that it matters compared to dynamics confronting other diaspora groups.

In El Salvador’s case, candidates come to the US to explain their positions in order to gain the support of their family members at home. They want some money. However, they also visit in order to demonstrate to US officials that they are serious candidates, moderates, who the US should not worry about if elected. It appears that the battle over the Salvadoran diaspora community has been much more intense than it has been for the other Central American nations.

I interviewed Pablo Ceto about this in 2013.

MK: estaba pensando en qué es… bueno los guatemaltecos en los Estados Unidos no tienen una fuerza política en Guatemala como en El Salvador, porque hay muchos salvadoreños en los Estados Unidos que tienen fuerza entre los partidos allá, pero aquí nunca ví nada de esto.

Ceto: No, aquí ha habido más problemas de liderazgo en Estados Unidos.  Siempre hay una gente que quiere todo,  digno de los pasos, entonces los otros dicen no, mejor no.  Hay intentos, hay mucha gente de Estados Unidos, que no están por eso y solo para decirles, hagan esto, hagan lo otro.  

MK: casi dos millones de guatemaltecos allá mandan mucho dinero, pero 

Ceto: Hay esfuerzos, pero todavía no.  

I don’t know. He thought that the diaspora was a potential source of money and know-how for the party-based left, but from its performance last weekend, it doesn’t look like they succeeded.