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Guatemala's presidential election tinged by fear

MEXICO CITY — Guatemalan voters will pick a president today at a moment when deepening drug crime threatens the nation's feeble justice system and doubts hang over both candidates.

Rampant violence by encroaching Mexican drug traffickers provides an ominous backdrop to the sharp-elbowed runoff between the front-runner, retired Gen. Otto Perez Molina, and congressman Manuel Baldizon, who came in a distant second in the initial round of voting in September.

The rightist Perez Molina promises to use army troops to attack traffickers and says he will cut the homicide rate in half. The populist Baldizon has called for greater use of the death penalty.

Although Guatemala faces a long list of social ills, from dire poverty and inequality to weak public budgets, security remains topmost in voters' minds.

Cross-border organized crime "is probably the No. 1 threat that the government faces over the next four to five years," said Heather Berkman, Central America analyst for Eurasia Group in New York.

Perez Molina, 60, has led most polls by 8 to 10 percentage points. Baldizon, 41, has assembled a variety of backers, including the coalition led by outgoing President Alvaro Colom.

Guatemala's presidential election tinged by fear 11/05/11 [Last modified: Saturday, November 5, 2011 11:13pm]
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