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Guatemalan President Bernardo Arévalo’s supporters came out in force outside Congress on Jan. 14. But they weren’t there to witness his inauguration – they were there to make sure it even happened at all.
As commentators noted, after much struggle, these voters refused to let the enemies of their champion stifle the political will of the Central American nation’s majority. “Guatemala’s Democracy Defenders Won Out in the End,” wrote World Politics Review.
It was a surprising conclusion to a drawn-out and difficult path to the presidency.
“Each transparently ridiculous obstacle Guatemala’s corrupt elite threw at Arévalo and his political party since their win last summer was overwhelmingly rejected by the Guatemalans who voted for him,” noted ABC News.
Arévalo defied an “onslaught” of legal challenges to prevent his assumption of power and the success of a United Nations’ sponsored anti-corruption drive, wrote the United States Institute of Peace. Prosecutors, for example, claimed that Arévalo’s Seed Movement political party fraudulently collected signatures and committed other misdeeds in the run-up to the vote. International observers found no evidence to corroborate those assertions.
A former diplomat and peace envoy who is the son of a former Guatemalan president, he vowed after his swearing-in to “build robust and healthy democratic institutions,” and dismantle “the walls of corruption, brick by brick” that has allowed elites to collaborate with drug traffickers, undermining the legitimate economy and robbing the poor of opportunities.
American leaders, meanwhile, signaled support for Arévalo’s new administration by banning his successor, ex-President Alejandro Giammattei, from entering the US, reported the New York Times, because he allegedly accepted bribes. American officials also slapped sanctions on former energy minister Alberto Pimentel Mata due to corruption allegations.
Yet Arévalo is having trouble overcoming the corrupt climate in Guatemala. His pick for communications, infrastructure and housing minister, for example, explained BNamericas, quit that ministry in 2005 after irregularities in charging construction companies. Officials said she sought money for a vehicle related to the projects, but didn’t follow the proper purchasing protocols.
His cabinet is only one of the president’s early troubles, however, and there certainly will be many more in his bid to radically change the country. As the Associated Press wrote, he acknowledged that the country owed Guatemala’s two dozen Indigenous groups that suffer from poverty levels that are higher than other communities in the country. “There cannot be democracy without social justice, and social justice cannot prevail without democracy,” he said in his inauguration speech.
Expanding Guatemala’s economy won’t be easy, however. Foreign investment is especially important, contended Americas Quarterly. Several large business interests have issued statements in support of the new president, however, in a bid to support his agenda and create a new climate with new hope.