The newly elected president of Guatemala is hopeful about taking office despite obstacles

(Moises Castillo/Associated Press)

The newly elected president of Guatemala is hopeful about taking office despite obstacles

Tracy Wilkinson

November 15, 2023

In two months, Bernardo Arevalo says he is confident he will be sworn in as president of Guatemala on time and peacefully, despite powerful establishment forces opposing him.

Since his landslide election victory in August over a government-backed former first lady, Arevalo has faced one legal challenge after another attempt to disqualify him from office.

Arevalo calls the actions an attempted coup. He has opponents in Guatemala’s Congress and judiciary, and in some parts of the economic elite.

“They will continue to use all possible means to block us,” he said of his enemies.

Despite lingering hostility toward his rise, the Jan. 14 inauguration is inevitable, Arevalo said last week during a visit to Washington, where he met with Biden administration officials and members of the U.S. Congress and the Guatemalan diaspora.

Arevalo, 65, a center-left politician, former diplomat and post-conflict peacebuilding expert who vowed to fight endemic corruption in Guatemala, stunned conservative forces in Central America’s most populous country with his victory.

Since then, judicial officials led by Atty. General Mara Consuelo Porras has attempted to invalidate Arevalo’s political party, Semilla, and raise baseless claims of fraud in August’s elections. Porras is one of dozens of Guatemalan officials blacklisted by the U.S. State Department for alleged corruption.

An Arevalo presidency could mark a major change in Guatemala’s oppressive and oligarch-based politics, and become a model for the rest of the region.

The second election was judged to be free and fair by observers from the US, the European Union and the Organization of American States.

Crucial to Arevalo’s ability to take office is international support. The Biden administration has urged Guatemalan officials to respect the democratic process and the will of the people, and to refrain from attempts to overturn the election results.

But does Arevalo believe the US, which has overlooked this in the past?

and even contributed to it

Corruption in Central America, enough done?

The United States has been part of that broad consensus in support of democracy in Guatemala, and they have been very effective in supporting us, Arevalo said at a news conference in Washington last week.

He said members of his future administration had already held planning sessions with US agencies such as the United States Agency for International Development so they could get started.

Assistant Secretary of State Brian Nichols, who oversees affairs in the Western Hemisphere, reiterated last week that the US stands firmly behind the Guatemalan people and their overwhelming vote for Arevalo.

Those who defend democracy will succeed, Nichols said on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter, after meeting with the newly elected president.

Arevalo is also supported by massive demonstrations in his favor, organized by Guatemala’s large and long-oppressed indigenous communities. It’s historic, he said.

Yet another force Arevalo will have to contend with is rampant organized crime and narcotics trafficking, a regional scourge that he says has deeply affected his country’s political system.

When it comes to drug trafficking, we have a huge problem, Arevalo said. If you have a corrupt system, it’s very easy for organized crime and human trafficking to get into that system.

After decades of corruption in Guatemala, he said, it had reached several levels of government.

We know there are


[narco-mayors]we know there are


[narco-congressmen], and beyond, Arevalo said. So we are very clear that the fight against drug trafficking is fundamental if we really want to reclaim the state.

Latin America, like other parts of the world, has seen a number of so-called outsider presidents come to office promising to reverse long trends of corruption, poverty and violence, only to undermine democratic institutions to consolidate power and indefinitely time to remain in office. Arevalo’s supporters hope he will deviate from that pattern, but before that test begins he must take office, which some observers say is still not guaranteed.

Huge barriers remain, said Eric Olson, policy director of the Seattle International Foundation, which specializes in Central American development and democracy building. The courts and


progress is not on his side. It’s a huge challenge.

These are powerful actors he’s facing, Olson said. But Arevalo has a powerful mandate.


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