The winner was … democracy

CSB senior made sure vote was peaceful, secure in Guatemala

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November 10, 2015

By Mike Killeen

Anna Cron '16 was an international electoral observer for the Organization of American States during the Oct. 25 presidential election in Guatemala.

Surely, Anna Cron thought her boss couldn't be serious.

During her internship this summer with the Organization of American States (OAS), Cron — a senior at the College of Saint Benedict — was told she might be asked to be an international electoral observer.

"I never thought that they were serious about it, because I was one of the youngest interns at OAS," Cron said. "Most the other international students - I was with a lot of Colombians, Venezuelans and Argentinians - all had their master's degrees."

But the invitation did indeed come, and Cron served as an observer for the second round of the Guatemalan presidential election Oct. 25. The election was won by comedian-turned-politician Jimmy Morales.

Actually, Cron faced a difficult choice.  The political science and Latino/Latin American studies double-major received an email from OAS telling her she had 48 hours to decide if she wanted to be an international electoral observer in Guatemala.

Cron's dilemma? She is working on completing her senior thesis, and didn't want to miss any additional school days. Cron is scheduled to be part of the CSB/SJU student delegation attending the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Nov. 30-Dec. 6 in Paris.

"My thought process was, 'I can't miss more school.' I went to Christi Siver, my adviser, and I said, "Christi, I really want to do this but I don't think I'll be able to complete my thesis project to the degree I want,' '' Cron said.

"And she said, 'You should go. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity with what's going on in Guatemala. These are monumental elections.' So, I emailed back right after my meeting with Christi and said, 'Sign me up. I'm ready to go.' "

For Cron, it was a return to the country where she studied abroad during spring semester 2015. She arrived in Guatemala in advance of the election and spoke to local leaders, politicians and police officials about their preparations and concerns about Election Day.

On Election Day, Cron was assigned to a department, which is similar to a county in the United States. She visited nine polling places in the heavily indigenous department.

"I would go in and show them my credentials, and then observe," Cron said. "I would talk to eligible voters and ask them if it was clear how to vote. Did they understand who they were voting for because there are 32 official Mayan languages or indigenous languages in Guatemala, and the ballot is only in Spanish? We wanted to make sure that they understood and that they were not being coerced, that women were not being watched while they voted by their husbands and told who to vote for."

The observers then had to write reports about how the process went and if they thought the vote was secure. In its report on the election, the Electoral Observation Mission of the OAS "commended the citizens of the country, as well as the political parties and various state institutions on a peaceful and successful election."

"It was extraordinary," Cron said, noting she worked with observers from the European Union, the United Nations and those who had observed in Kabul, Afghanistan. "It was just great being in their presence."

Cron has been told that she has been placed on a list of potential international electoral observers by OAS. "If they have a need again, I've been told possibly I will have to do more English-speaking (countries), like the Caribbean countries," Cron said. "That would be great."

And this time, she knows they're serious.