Mrs. Maria Cifuentes, a Guatemalan migrant in Los Angeles for 23 years, told La Opinion that she would like to use her right to vote this Sunday to elect the president and vice president from abroad in her country, but she has encountered obstacles to do so.
About 15 days ago, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal of Guatemala launched a portal for voters abroad to see the location of the polling places where they have to vote “and they sent me to San Francisco,” said Dona Maria.
This is the second time that Guatemalans in the United States can vote but only in the elections for president and vice president, the first was in 2019. Mrs. Cifuentes thought that having voted before from Los Angeles, her data would remain without changes.
“No one has been able to tell me why I was assigned a polling place in San Francisco,” explained the voter, who this time wants to participate in the election “with the illusion, with the hope that there will be a change in my country; candidates come with promises of change, but when they have the position it is very easy for them to forget their promises.”
He said that with that motivation he planned to be there on Sunday, election day when they open the polling station in the Guatemalan consulate in Los Angeles at 7 in the morning.
The change of polling place to another city that Mrs. Cifuentes faces, however, reflects an extensive problem in this election.
Mr. Alfonso Perez, a Guatemalan community leader in Los Angeles who even coordinated the 2019 presidential election, found that the polling place assigned to him for June 25 is in the municipality of Retalhuleu in Guatemala, the place where he voted for the first time when he lived there.
Walter Batres, the president of the Guatemalan Migrant Network, told La Opinion that the Supreme Electoral Tribunal divided the US territory into four regions and until a few weeks ago allowed each voter to vote in any of the voting centers in their region, but suddenly and without warning they changed.
“Now we have, for example, voters who live in Seattle, where there is an important Guatemalan community, who this Sunday have to vote in San Francisco; others that to vote in Las Vegas would have to drive about 14 hours and spend at least $1,000 in gasoline,” Batres said.
The leader of Los Angeles has directly asked the staff of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal for alternatives for voters without obtaining a response, nor has he had an explanation for the sudden changes that impacted voters.
“The only thing that It occurs to me because I have no proof, is that the people who were hired to update the electoral roll made many finger errors and they did not care; for example, they were able to change digits to voter ZIP codes and it didn't seem important to them to change a little number, but for voters, it means enormous distances,” Bartres said.
According to an analysis by the Guatemalan Migrant Network, the voters of that country in the United States have a great interest in participating in the elections in Guatemala, not in elections for presidential or congressional offices, but in the election of municipal presidents.
“Years go by and we remain attached to our towns, to our municipalities, we often find out what is happening in the places we come from, and the municipal presidents make their tours of the United States to talk with us because they value us and consider us important in the solutions”, said the leader.
Suddenly a municipal president of Guatemala visits his countrymen in the United States and familiarly tells them that “We are already building the school, but we lack the bathrooms, what do you think if you help us with some financing and we we'll take care of it.”
They also count on migrants as in “the case of an old lady with no relatives who got sick and asked us for help, and well, one puts $20, another $15 and that's how it comes together, and between we all help her.”
One in five Guatemalans now lives in the United States, and there are about four million migrants, although the official figure is three million it is based on calculations from consulates that not many Chapines visit
A week ago there was a Guatemalan fair in Los Angeles and Mrs. Cifuentes spoke with the representatives of the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, who told her that perhaps her change of polling place was due to doing some paperwork at the Guatemalan consulate in San Francisco.
“If I never visit the consulate in Los Angeles and live here, let alone go all the way to San Francisco,” he said.
The largest Guatemalan community in the country is located between Los Angeles and the San Diego border, it is also the one that contributes, along with the one in New York, most of the approximately $20,000 million annually in remittances, although that is an official calculation based on transfers, another important part of the money arrives in Guatemala in parcels or with the migrants themselves.
The president of the Electoral Board for Voting Abroad of the Western District, Marelis Ortiz, said that the main motivation of Guatemalan voters to participate this Sunday is “the hope that we can contribute to a change in Guatemala, not that they see us only as ghosts that send remittances.”
The official said that the obstacles to voting this Sunday “were due to a committee that was sent to the United States in recent months to update the electoral roll and that did not know how to do its job.”
All in all, Marelis Ortiz thinks that this Sunday some eight thousand Guatemalans will vote in Los Angeles; Batres, for her part, expects only about 600 to arrive at each of the two voting centers.
The centers open from 7 in the morning to 6 in the afternoon. One at the Guatemalan Consulate General in Los Angeles and the other at the corner of Sunset Boulevard and Vermont in Los Angeles.