World

Guatemala’s New President Is Sworn In, Despite Efforts to Stop Him

Despite staunch resistance from his opponents within the authorities, the anticorruption crusader Bernardo Arévalo was inaugurated early Monday morning as Guatemala’s president, a turning level in a rustic the place tensions have been simmering over widespread graft and impunity.

His inauguration had been scheduled for Sunday, however members of Congress delayed it, and considerations endured about whether or not it could occur in any respect. But after a world outcry and pressure from protesters, Mr. Arévalo was sworn in shortly after midnight, changing into Guatemala’s most progressive head of state since democracy was re-established within the 1980s.

His rise to energy — six months after his victory on the polls delivered a surprising rebuke to Guatemala’s conservative political institution — quantities to a sea change in Central America’s most populous nation. His landslide election mirrored broad assist for his proposals to curb graft and revive a teetering democracy.

But as Mr. Arévalo prepares to govern, he should assert management whereas going through off in opposition to an alliance of conservative prosecutors, members of Congress and different political figures who’ve gutted Guatemala’s governing establishments lately.

“Arévalo has the most thankless job in Guatemala today because he arrives with exceptionally high expectations,” mentioned Edgar Ortíz Romero, an professional on Guatemalan constitutional legislation. “He’s been given a budget for a Toyota when people want a Ferrari.”

Mr. Arévalo’s opponents in Congress moved to rein him in late final yr, approving a funds that might severely restrict his skill to spend on health care and training, two of his high priorities.

But discovering sources to spend is simply one of many difficulties confronting Mr. Arévalo. More urgently, as his opponents in Congress confirmed once more on Sunday, he faces a number of challenges from Guatemala’s entrenched institution, aimed toward rapidly crippling his skill to govern.

The energy battle enjoying out in Guatemala, a nation of 18 million, is being intently adopted all through Central America, a area on edge over the increasing sway of drug cartels, the exodus of migrants and using authoritarian ways in neighboring international locations like El Salvador and Nicaragua.

“This is a unique event in the country’s history,” mentioned Javier García, a 31-year-old engineer, who was among the many 1000’s who turned out to rejoice the inauguration within the capital, Guatemala City. “Now I hope those who lost the election understand this once and for all.”

The transition of energy was something however orderly. After he burst onto Guatemala’s political scene final yr, Mr. Arévalo confronted an assassination plot, his get together’s suspension and a barrage of authorized assaults aimed toward stopping him from taking workplace. His opponent within the presidential race, a former first girl, refused to acknowledge his victory.

In the capital, hypothesis swirled in current days that prosecutors would search the arrest of Mr. Arévalo’s running mate, Karin Herrera, doubtlessly derailing the inauguration as a result of each the president-elect and vice president-elect want to be present for the switch of energy to be legit.

Guatemala’s highest courtroom issued an order final week shielding Ms. Herrera from arrest, giving her and Mr. Arévalo a reprieve. But the identical courtroom sowed confusion on Sunday when it allowed his conservative opponents to stay within the running to retain management of Congress.

Members of Congress opposed to Mr. Arévalo then spent hours attempting to consolidate their maintain on the chamber, successfully delaying the switch of energy as a lot of the nation remained on tenterhooks. But in a twist on Sunday night time, Mr. Arévalo’s get together managed to win management of Congress, clearing the way in which for the swearing-in.

Prosecutors and judges opposed to Mr. Arévalo had already gone on a judicial onslaught quickly after the nationwide election. Seeking to forged doubt on Mr. Arévalo’s victory on the polls, the place he received by greater than 20 proportion factors, prosecutors obtained arrest warrants for 4 magistrates who served on Guatemala’s high electoral authority, alleging corruption within the acquisition of election software program. The 4 magistrates had been all exterior the nation when the warrants had been issued.

On Thursday, the legal professional basic’s workplace arrested Napoleón Barrientos, a former inside minister, on the grounds that he had refused to use power to preserve order in October in opposition to protesters demanding the legal professional basic’s resignation.

Such strikes have grown widespread in Guatemala since 2019, when conservative political figures shut down a pioneering United Nations-backed anticorruption mission. Dozens of prosecutors and judges who had been attempting to tackle graft fled into exile.

Pushing again, the United States, the European Union and a number of leaders in Latin America threw their assist behind Mr. Arévalo, a sociologist and former diplomat. That assist was seen on Sunday because the delays appeared to put the switch of energy doubtful.

“There is no question that Bernardo Arévalo is the president of Guatemala,” said Samantha Power, the administrator of the United States Agency for International Development, who led a U.S. delegation to the inauguration. She added, “The world is watching.”

The Biden administration maneuvered for months in assist of Mr. Arévalo after he shocked many in Guatemala, together with members of his get together, by squeaking right into a runoff election that he went on to resoundingly win.

Washington’s assist for reform stands in distinction to the function it performed in Guatemala many years in the past. The United States backed the Guatemalan navy throughout an extended, brutal civil battle; one navy dictator in the course of the 1980s was later convicted of genocide for attempting to exterminate the Ixil, a Mayan Indian folks. In 1954, the C.I.A. engineered a coup that toppled a well-liked, democratically elected president, Jacobo Arbenz.

After that coup, Mr. Arévalo’s father, Juan José Arévalo, a former president who remains to be admired in Guatemala for permitting freedom of speech and creating the social safety system, spent years in exile round Latin America.

The youthful Mr. Arévalo, a soft-spoken sociologist and diplomat, was born in Uruguay throughout that point and was raised in Venezuela, Mexico and Chile earlier than the household might return to Guatemala.

As efforts intensified final month to stop Mr. Arévalo from taking workplace, the United States imposed sanctions on Miguel Martínez, one of many closest allies of the departing president, Alejandro Giammattei, over widespread bribery schemes.

And in a pivotal transfer, the American authorities in December imposed visa restrictions on practically 300 Guatemalans, together with greater than 100 members of Congress, accusing them of undermining democracy and the rule of legislation as they tried to weaken Mr. Arévalo and hold him from being inaugurated.

“The pressure from the United States has prevented a coup d’état; without that, we wouldn’t be here,” mentioned Manfredo Marroquín, the pinnacle of Citizen Action, an anticorruption coverage group. “The Americans are like insurance: there in times of crisis.”

Still, the U.S. assist of Mr. Arévalo has revealed fissures in Guatemala. In his final weeks in workplace, Mr. Giammattei, who was barred by legislation from in search of re-election, grew more and more vocal in his criticism of the American sanctions and the worldwide assist for Mr. Arévalo.

Dealing one other blow to Mr. Arévalo, Mr. Giammattei withdrew Guatemala from an antidrug job power created in 2020 with the United States. That transfer might weaken Guatemala’s skill to fight drug trafficking teams, which have been increasing their sway across the nation.

At the identical time, Mr. Arévalo’s efforts to forge alliances have revealed how difficult will probably be for him to govern. This month, he introduced the primary Guatemalan cupboard during which women would account for half of all ministerial posts, however the celebration of that milestone was short-lived.

A member of a serious enterprise affiliation was named to the brand new cupboard, prompting calls that Mr. Arévalo, who has hewed to centrist insurance policies, was drifting to the proper. Another cupboard nominee withdrew after outdated feedback surfaced during which she criticized a outstanding Indigenous activist.

Indignation additionally arose as a result of just one minister in his cupboard was Indigenous, regardless of the essential function that Indigenous teams performed in protesting in opposition to the efforts to hold Mr. Arévalo from taking workplace. Nearly half of Guatemala’s inhabitants is Indigenous.

“There is an expectation that this new government will be different,” mentioned Sandra Xinico, an anthropologist and Indigenous activist. “But we’ve seen once again how Indigenous peoples are excluded from the political process.”




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