HYATTSVILLE, Maryland—Television comedian, outsider, and reformer Jimmy Morales is poised to win the presidency of Guatemala.
He’s leading the polls, and if he gets the job Oct. 25, he’s going to do something remarkable—try to jumpstart the country’s economy and reverse the annual loss of young people to the insatiable appetite by U.S. companies for illegal labor in the United States.
“There will always be migration if there is no security and no jobs” in Guatemala, Morales told Breitbart News.
“This is why in Guatemala we have to work to generate better working conditions and to strengthen the justice system, which will automatically help make security more efficient,” he said during an interview, just north of Washington D.C.
“It is not easy, but if we do not start today, much time will pass by without a solution to the migration phenomena.”
Morales placed first in the Sept. 6 three-way race for the presidency, against two entrenched politicians, where the average income is just over $7,700 per year. He’s now polling in first place heading into the Oct. 25 runoff—all while the nation’s president Otto Perez Molina and his vice president Roxana Baldetti sit in Guatemalan jail cells on corruption charges.
Those shocking arrests allowed Morales to ride an anti-politician mood in his country. He’s running with a campaign slogan saying “Not corrupt, not a thief”—“Ni corrupto, ni ladrón.”
Morales, 46, was born poor, but he’s earned a business degree and a degree in theology. He’s an evangelical Christian and a nationalist, has four kids, and became famous in Guatemala by starring in a TV series titled “Moralejas,” or “Morals.”
“My candidacy is just part of the anti-corruption movement [happening around the world],” Morales told Breitbart News in an exclusive interview between events here in the United States just outside Washington, D.C., on Friday.
“I’m not a career politician. I am not a traditional politician, but I am a citizen who has tried to prepare to confront a corrupt political class that steals money from the state with impunity.”
The same trend is pushing U.S. politicians who are criticizing the incumbent insiders, Morales said.
So far, Donald Trump, and fellow non-politicians Dr. Ben Carson and former Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina, plus Democratic insurgent Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, are all leading their establishment rivals in the 2016 primaries.
They “are evidence showing that a good sector of the population does not support traditional politicians even in the most democratic country in the world,” Morales told Breitbart News. “That sentiment will grow in countries like Guatemala where acts of corruption are brazen and remain unpunished.”
The nation just took massive steps toward cleaning up corruption when earlier this year Baldetti—the first female vice president in Guatemala’s history—was forced out of office and into jail on corruption charges.
Those charges reached Guatemala’s chief executive in the past few weeks. That helped Morales’s fairly new outsider party win 11 seats in the 158-seat Congress, while he won the presidential ballot, putting him into a runoff against the nation’s former first lady Sandra Torres.
Morales doesn’t speak English well. He spoke with Breitbart News through a translator in his SUV after meeting with Guatemalan ex-patriates here in Hyattsville at La Union Mall.
The mall is host to a “Little Guatemala” community that looks and feels a lot like the Central American country, just outside the U.S. Capitol of Washington, D.C. While getting into the SUV, Morales was swarmed with crowds of adoring Guatemalan fans—much like what happened at a Trump event at a New Hampshire high school. It was so difficult to get in the car with the crowds that his staff told this reporter and one of his aides to wait around the corner for them to pick us up away from the throngs of Morales supporters.
After the interview, Morales sped off to meet principals at the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) in D.C.
The Guatemalans living in the U.S.—whether here illegally or legally—aren’t allowed to vote in that nation’s elections. But Morales was here rallying support among them to try to gin up extra support with their family members back home and to sell his migration policy to people.
His campaign aide on immigration policy is Guillermo Eduardo Castillo. He’s a 38-year-old jack-of-all-trades who’s been active in business, politics, and more in Guatemala, especially in that nation’s relations with the United States.
Morales wants to end corruption in Guatemala, grow local economies throughout the nation, and make it more palatable for people to stay and work in their own communities there than come to the United States either legally or illegally, said Castillo.
That’s a win-win for 16 million Guatemalans and 310 million Americans, he argues, because doing so will help build the middle class in both countries.
Pew estimates that, in 2010, roughly 650,000 Guatemalans lived in the United States, largely because the federal government hasn’t stopped companies from sucking up cheap labor from countries south of Texas. That population is roughy one in every 20 Guatemalans. Castillo estimates the numbers are even higher, telling Breitbart News over lunch at Hispanic chicken fast food restaurant Pollo Campero next door to La Union Mall while waiting for Morales’s arrival that there are about 2 million Guatemalans living in the U.S.
Morales wants to help the Guatemala migrants who are already in the United States. He’s promising to build a better relationship with them through greater consulate services from his country.
His two goals of keeping Guatemalans at home and helping those in the United States are not an easy match.
When asked if it’s better for people to leave Guatemala for the United States, Morales said it’s currently better for them to come here.
“There are two conflicting answers to the same question,” Morales said.
“For people it is better to go to the United States because they have better economic opportunities there, but socially it is a problem because they have to abandon family, have to abandon customs, they have to abandon many things that generate personal injury and damage to the person migrating and their family,” he said.
“That social problem generates problems of violence, creates problems of all kinds that affect countries, including the United States, and as a result we must seek a joint solution to the problems of migration,” Morales said.
There is little “political will” among Guatemala’s and America’s elite classes to solve the problem, he said.
“There are plans and there have been plans. The problem is there is a lack of political will to put them into effect,” Morales said.
“The plan that we propose is simple: fight against corruption to have economic resources to invest in health, education, security, and infrastructure for economic development.”
If elected, Morales will fight against the drug-cartel corruption—and crime that stems from it—that’s ripped his country apart.
He’s also calling on Guatemala’s neighbors, El Salvador and Honduras—two nations directly south of Guatemala, which lines Mexico’s southern border—to address the rampant crime in the region.
“There is a plan, but it has not been very efficient,” Morales told Breitbart News.
“In 2009, [in Guatemala] there were 45 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants. In 2014, it had dropped to 30 per 100,000 inhabitants.”
“But there are problems across our borders. In El Salvador and Honduras, murders for every 100,000 inhabitants are coming close to 50 and 90. But it is useless to fight in Guatemala if El Salvador and Honduras do nothing to counteract those problems because our borders are very insecure. So if it is not addressed regionally and efficiently, it is like putting water in a barrel with holes all over it—the water keeps pouring out.”
“We are making contacts with some politicians starting with the U.S. Embassy. I’ve spoken to Ambassador Todd Robinson,” Morales said. “We’re also going to a meeting with the International Development Bank with the purpose of opening some political and economic opportunities—precisely looking for projects to combat problems associated with health, education, and poverty in the country.”
Two central platforms of his campaign—improving education and boosting access to medicine, doctors, and equipment necessary to help people’s health nationwide—are part of a larger plan on his part to solve the nation’s poverty problems.
Getting folks to work in their country, create jobs, and build a better national infrastructure and internal economy in Guatemala, Morales argues, will help incentivize Guatemalans to stay in their homeland rather than migrating to the United States or elsewhere around the world.
“In hospitals across Guatemala there is no medicine and people are dying in the beds because there is no medicine,” Morales told Breitbart News:
The doctor is willing to treat, but he lacks the tools to do so. And this is because politicians have tremendously over-billed the medicines, never caring that people are dying in hospital beds. And the problem is so compounded that change appears impossible. That must change. If that does not change we will not be able to find solutions to other problems in the country that keep generating migration, violence, delinquency, and poverty. I use health as an example because it is vital and a national security issue. When I talk about security and that people are fleeing the country, I’m not only speaking about cops and robbers because bullets kill, but so do disease and hunger.
Asked how these problems like the lack of medicine and resources in hospitals nationwide are solved, Morales pointed to how the government’s officials “stole” money that could have been used to build a bridge that would drive costs down significantly for one of the nation’s larger cities outside Guatemala City.
Breitbart got a close look at Guatemala’s crippled medical system last August, on a trip Salama, a city up in the mountains where Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) visited to perform charity cataract removal eye surgeries.
Ironically, given the state of the GOP 2016 race with Paul attacking Trump on the trail daily, that trip was financed in large part by Trump. Trump gave $10,000 to fund the trip.
The lack of medical resources for basic treatment of eye problems or poor teeth, for example, can lead to serious long-term problems for Guatemalans.
“Salama has two roads,” Morales told Breitbart News. “The larger one is 151 kilometers [long] and due to a lack of a bridge that could reduce the distance to 70 kilometers, people have to keep using the long road,” he said.
That generates unnecessary spending—augmenting the cost of transporting the goods; increases the time it takes to transport people; increases the time it would take to transfer a person who needs medical treatment during an emergency. All that could be fixed by building a bridge. Why has it not been built? Because of the money to do so has been stolen. Just as it happens in Salama, it happens in many other places in Guatemala.
The election is still a month away, and anything can happen, but perhaps Morales—if he can keep this momentum going—could get elected and help—as Trump would say—“Make Guatemala Great Again.”