Guatemala's DipuKids: A New Generation of Candidates for Congress

The Guatemalan Civil War (1960-1996) killed or exiled many of the country's promising young leaders and academics, leaving an empty space in the political arena. Since the signing of the Guatemalan Peace Accords of 1996, the number of young parliamentarians has remained extremely low, and people with good academic profiles were too scared to participate in politics. Until now.

A new generation of politicians under 30, dubbed the ‘Dipukids’, are causing controversy, after political parties released lists featuring young candidates with good chances to fill a seat in the next Congress for the 2012-2016 period.

DipuKids on You Tube by Veneno Cruz

Congreso Transparente [es], a new initiative to make the Guatemalan Congress open and closer to the people, provides information on some of the young candidates – in their twenties, from different political parties but with similar backgrounds – exercising their citizen right to be elected.

Most of them are in their early or mid twenties, were born after the war, enjoyed exclusive, high quality private education and have traveled the world – a privileged life, quite different from the average Guatemalan.

Some of the candidates top the lists, reflecting their good chance of getting elected. Most of them are young professionals such as Julio Hernandez [es] (25) (@jfhernandezgt) who has a degree in international relations; Diego Calvo [es] (26), Eduardo Smith [es] (26), and Hugo Morán [es] (26), all three with law degrees; and Elisa Stahl Biener (@ElisaSBiener) with a degree in public communication. Ana Lucía Mazariegos [es] (20), Juan Diego Asturias @judias9 (21), and Joan Godoy [es] (23) are still studying.

Here you can see Ana Lucía Mazariegos in action:

Nepotism is not absent from the ranks of the Dipukids: the son of a former president and current Mayor of Guatemala City, Alvaro Arzu Jr. is running for a seat in Congress. Alejandra García, the daughter of a prominent Congresswoman, also running for re-election, is listed as candidate of the Central American Parliament (PARLACEN).

Under the title ‘How young is too young?’, British Ambassador Julie Chapel discussed the issue in her institutional blog:

“Dipukids” – it’s a catchy phrase! But is it fair? As someone who has occasionally been called the “Kid Ambassador”, I hope you don't mind me contributing a few words to this debate. The article of 10 July refers to the importance that British systems place on age and experience. It is true that the average age of a diputado in the UK is 50. Many work their way up the political party system as researchers, speech writers and interns. However, it is also true that all the major parties in the 2010 UK elections put forward candidates under the age of 24. The youngest candidates were only 18 and the youngest to be elected only 26. My Foreign Minister first made a name for himself speaking at the Conservative Party Conference aged only 16 for the passion that marked him out as a leader over 30 years ago. So while experience is undeniably important, so are fresh ideas, energy and seeing things from a different point of view. “

However, not all opinions are as open and refreshing. In the blog Political Candidates 2011, under the title ‘Young candidates for Congress‘ [es], the author questions how someone so young is financing his/her campaign, since it costs around US$70,000.00 to finance a campaign for Congress. The author also questions the young candidates’ commitment to serve the interest of the general public, since many of them come from the Guatemalan upper class.

Veteran journalist and political analyst Jorge Palmieri in his article ‘Youth is not enough‘ describes how Guatemalans involved in politics since their youth have reshaped the destiny of the nation, quoting examples of famous Guatemalan author and thinker Mario Monteforte Toledo, who was elected for Congress at the age of 26, and other high profile figures.

Furthermore, for blogger Ensabanable the Dipukids represent the ‘instrumentalization of youth‘ [es].

Javier, in his blog Kaotic storm of ideas, writes the post ‘Political games or toy politics?‘ [es]:

… introducir un enorme grupo de personas con cero experiencia en leyes, tanto su creación como su ejecución y análisis, es, para todas las intenciones y propósitos, algo realmente estúpido e inaudito.  Se pretende enmascarar la inexperiencia de estos postulantes y vendernos la idea de que la juventud es una característica lo suficientemente importante como para que ignores su falta de capacidad.  ¿Cuántas veces se han escuchado quejas porque gente no preparada, irrelevante de su edad, se encuentra en el Congreso?  ¿Acaso el que estos sean jóvenes los hace inmunes a esta misma queja?

…to introduce a huge group of people with zero experience in legislation, in the law making process, its execution and analysis, is for all intents and purposes, something stupid and unprecedented. They are trying to hide the lack of experience of these candidates behind the mask of youth, using the latter to sell us the idea that youth is enough to ignore lack of capacity. How many times do we hear complaints that people without preparation, no matter how old they are, are occupying seats in Congress? Does being young make them immune to this complaint?

Guatemala has nearly 6.7 million people under the age of 18; half of them are indigenous and more than two thirds are poor. Less than 30% of Guatemalans complete high school. Only a privileged minority enrolls in universities, and even less finish their degree.

If elected, the people who the Dipukids will represent are radically different from them, and face needs and challenges that are far from the reality surrounding the young candidates. Let's hope that if they are elected, this new generation of politicians will not forget the very diverse youth they will represent.

The thumbnail comes from a screenshoot from DipuKids on You Tube by Veneno Cruz

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