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Anti-corruption crusader Bernardo Arévalo won Guatemala’s presidential election on Aug. 20, garnering a clear mandate with nearly 60 percent of the vote. He defeated Sandra Torres, a former first lady, who was a leader in the Central American country’s conservative elite.
It was a political earthquake, wrote Stephen Kinzer, a senior fellow at the Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs at Brown University, in the Boston Globe. It wasn’t supposed to happen.
The question Guatemalans are now asking themselves is whether the criminals and corrupt officials in the country will allow Arévalo to govern.
Torres has not yet conceded defeat. The Organization of American States recently called on Guatemala, meanwhile, to give Arévalo a security detail to protect him from a rumored assassination plot, the Associated Press reported.
Other curveballs could be coming, too. Prosecutors, for example, are still questioning his Seed Movement political party’s registration status due to alleged irregularities stretching back to 2018, explained the Washington Post. Investigators are also looking into voting irregularities that they claim occurred in the first round of voting in June.
As Vox wrote, the newly elected president has defeated prosecutors in court, though they can appeal to higher chambers. Many have also claimed that he wants to institute communist rule in Guatemala. He has blasted their attempts at slander in a manner that many voters appreciate.
“We believe that democratic institutions must be reestablished,” Arévalo said in an interview with Spain’s El País. “We have to re-found the process that this corrupt political class has hijacked from us.”
That message resonates with Arévalo’s supporters, who view his legal woes as signs of Guatemala’s corrupt political system attempting to destroy a reformer who is standing up for ordinary people, the New York Times reported. Voters described casting ballots for an inspiring candidate for the first time in memory.
The new president, incidentally, is the son of Juan Jose Arévalo, who happened to be the first democratically-elected president of Guatemala, according to Reuters. His father’s administration from 1945 to 1951 ended a period of dictatorship and instituted a leftist administration that became known as the “Democratic Spring.” Juan Jose Arévalo fled the country after a US-backed military coup took over in 1954, however. His son, Bernardo, was born in Uruguay in exile.
Now, Arévalo has pledged to crack down on corruption, tackle poverty, and end the repression that has marked the government’s policy toward opponents and dissidents, the Nation magazine wrote.
The elites who had been ruling Guatemala emerged after the end of the 30-year civil war in the country that ended in 1996. Their grip on power loosened, however, in 2015 when a UN-backed commission exposed ex-President Otto Pérez Molina’s corrupt administration. Since then, the country has been unstable as corrupt officials and reformers have vied for control along with the drug cartels that use the country as a transshipping center, and control much of the police force and the army.
Now Arévalo has a chance to mop it all up.