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Bernardo Arevalo becomes Guatemala’s President today; Vows to confront corruption and strengthen democracy

Posted: Sunday, January 14, 2024. 8:26 am CST.

By Horace Palacio: According to Reuters, Guatemalan President-elect Bernardo Arevalo is set to be inaugurated today, Sunday for a four-year term, facing the daunting task of eradicating entrenched corruption in a nation plagued by political turmoil. Arevalo, who secured a decisive victory in the presidential run-off, confronts a deeply divided Congress and a series of judicial obstacles designed to undermine his authority.

The 65-year-old Arevalo, a career diplomat and sociologist, and son of former President Juan Jose Arevalo, has vowed to restore democracy in Guatemala, Central America’s most populous country with over 17 million inhabitants. His victory in August was a clear mandate from the Guatemalan people, but it has been marred by challenges from the outgoing administration.

In recent months, the attorney general, an ally of the departing President Alejandro Giammattei, has escalated efforts to invalidate Arevalo’s election win. These attempts include moves to strip Arevalo and his Vice President-elect Karin Herrera of legal immunity, suspend their Semilla party, and annul the election results. This aggressive campaign sparked massive protests across Guatemala, drawing international attention and pressure, particularly from the United States, to ensure a smooth transition of power.

Roberto Alejos, a former Guatemalan Congressional and political analyst, expressed concerns about Arevalo’s governance challenges. “They are not going to let him pass any law in Congress and he will have plenty of difficulties governing,” Alejos told Reuters.

Despite its overwhelming success in the presidential elections, Semilla, a social democratic, environmentalist, and progressive party, holds only 23 of the 160 seats in the legislature. This imbalance leaves Arevalo vulnerable to continuous political attacks and legislative hurdles.

Ana Maria Mendez, Central America director of the Washington Office on Latin American Affairs (WOLA), a rights group, warned of ongoing efforts to criminalize Arevalo and other party members. She highlighted the actions of Attorney General Consuelo Porras as a serious threat to Guatemala’s governance and stability.

The attorney general’s office has denied allegations of attempting a coup, maintaining that its actions are within the legal framework of the country’s laws.

Arevalo faces a range of pressing issues, including rampant poverty, high living costs, and violence that drive Central American migration to the United States. His administration will need to balance the United States’ demands to control migration against the backdrop of record-high remittances vital for Guatemala’s economy.

Post-election, Arevalo announced plans to expand relations with China, a move that could signal a shift in Guatemala’s diplomatic ties with Taiwan. This potential policy change could strain relations with the United States. However, Arevalo has clarified that a closer relationship with China does not necessarily mean breaking ties with Taiwan.

“We don’t believe that the people of Guatemala at this moment are waiting for (us) to arrive with a magic wand,” Arevalo stated in an August interview with Reuters. He emphasized his commitment to working for the development and well-being of the Guatemalan people.

As Arevalo prepares to take office, Guatemala stands at a critical juncture, with its future governance, international relations, and domestic policies hanging in the balance.


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