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Guatemalans in the U.S. will be able to vote for the first time — but not in Florida

The Consulate General of Guatemala in Miami is at 1101 Brickell Ave.
The Consulate General of Guatemala in Miami is at 1101 Brickell Ave.

Rey Pineda, 42, migrated legally from Guatemala in 2006 to reunite with his aunt, who was a U.S. citizen. Now he’s a U.S. citizen, too, living in Miami.

So when the Guatemalan congress approved an electoral law reform in 2016 that included allowing Guatemala natives living abroad to vote in next month’s presidential and legislative elections, he had high hopes.

“My mother and my sister still live there. I want them to be able to live in a better country,” he said.

Pineda’s hopes were shared by many of the 2.7 million Guatemalans estimated by the Foreign Ministry of the Central American country to be living in the United States.

Guatemalans in the U.S. will indeed be able to vote next month, but only in four cities. Miami is not one of them. They are Los Angeles, New York, Houston and Silver Spring, Md.

Sergio Morales, president of the American-Guatemalan Association (AGA) based in Miami, said many of his fellow immigrants in Florida want to be able to elect the leaders of their home country.

“People would tell me how much they were looking forward to being able to vote after so many years,” he said.

AGA member Marlon González said members of Guatemala’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal (SET), preparing to organize the vote, came to the United States and met with Guatemalans living in South Florida. Morales and others also traveled to Guatemala to help coordinate the balloting.

But no voting center was approved for Florida.

SET Magistrate Julio Solórzano said the tribunal wanted to include Miami but the number of Guatemalan citizens living in the region was lower than in the other four cities. Official figures show 145,000 Guatemalans living in Miami compared to 140,000 in Houston, but the numbers of registered voters are lower in Miami.

A total of 63,267 Guatemalans living in the United States are registered to vote at Guatemalan consulates.

Roberto Monjaraz, an activist for the large Guatemalan immigrant community in West Palm Beach, said its members have little or no interest in political events back home.

Most are members of the indigenous population, victims of the historical abandonment by their government, he said, and therefore naturally more interested in improving their economic situation in the United States than in the elections.

Solórzano said he hopes future balloting can be expanded to other cities, not just in the United States but around the world.

He stressed that balloting will be available in the four cities and urged Guatemalans registered in those areas to exercise their rights as citizens at the designated Guatemala consulates.

Alejandro Perez and Carlos Espinosa are in Miami as part of a fellowship program for the International Center for Journalists based in D.C.