Jun 12, 2011

Listening to gunshots in Guatemala

 The laud sound of the speakers of the nearby electronics store mixes itself with the sound of several gunshots. This is San Jose Pinula, a pretty dynamic town close to Guatemala City. The memories of sounds from the civil war come to mind. 

A candidate to Mayor of the municipality, a well regarded doctor, was killed last night, along with his wife and mother in law. Electoral violence is increasing.

Not much has been written on electoral violence from a social science perspective. For example this paper claims:
Electoral violence is a broad subcategory of political violence that has received surprisingly little theoretical or methodological attention to facilitate its systematic study. While it has a limited objective in the sense that it is aimed at affecting the electoral process, its consequences may be wide reaching and can influence both attempts at conflict management and the consolidation of democracy. 
In a country where many variables converge toward a high level of violence, it is hard to separate the violence that comes from drug trafficking, fights for power in the context of the incoming elections, and gang related violence. Most of what has been written on electoral violence comes from Africa. This article, for example claims:
It turns out that electoral violence does not just occur, but is usually strategically instigated and even very well organized by party officials using socio-economic grievances for violent political mobilization.    
 In India, for example, political violence is linked to ethnicity and religion:
In Votes and Violence, Duke University (North Carolina) political science professor Steven Wilkinson develops and tests a model of ethnoreligious violence in India. In his model, based explicitly on constructivist notions of ethnicity (p. 4), ethnically based political parties attempt to make ethnic identification salient in the minds of their target voters by provoking interethnic incidents of violence. An example of such a provocative incident would be routing a Hindu religious procession through a Muslim neighbourhood. While the marches themselves may prove to rally a few voters, their real effect is felt if Muslims react to the provocation. The reaction to the provocation creates a cycle of fear among Hindu voters, leading to increased voting for hardline Hindu nationalist parties. 
Using a negative binomial regression model to test event count data on violence in towns in the state of Uttar Pradesh versus a variety of demographic, economic and political variables, Wilkinson finds that variables which characterise the electoral situation in a town tend to be correlated with the incidence of violence. In particular, he finds the competitiveness of previous elections, the nearness of the next election and demographic parity between Hindus and Muslims leads to increased levels of violence. Variables associated with other explanations of interethnic violence, such as economic competition between Muslims and Hindus, or the presence of Hindu refugees displaced from Pakistan, show mixed evidence at best as causal factors in the occurrence of violence. 
The case of Guatemala might be different, ethnic and religions conflict are not the driving forces. Economic motives might be the key.

More research is needed, as usual, regarding this topic. In the meantime I wonder how many more lethal victims of this violence will be counted in Guatemala, while the music in the electric shop keeps playing. 

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