Conservative bet wins in Guatemala polls

Cheryl Sanders
August 14, 2019

RIGHT-WING candidate Alejandro Giammattei was elected as President of Guatemala today after promising to scrap the country's migrant deal with the US.

Giammattei told The Associated Press his country can not tend to its own people, let alone those from other countries.

He will be under huge pressure from the United States to implement a controversial migration pact that would allow Washington to send most Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers who passed through Guatemala back to the poor, crime-ridden country.

Mr Giammattei noted that since a U.S. judge had already suspended a separate safe third country accord, there was a chance that the deal with Guatemala could change. "That definition doesn't fit us", said Giammattei, a conservative who won Sunday's presidential runoff election. "The aim is fulfilled", Giammattei had said earlier.

The agreement designates Guatemala as a "safe third country", enabling Washington to turn away asylum seekers who did not seek refuge there when passing through Guatemala. He says, among many challenges, the new president must improve relations with the US which have been strained since President Trump pressured the outgoing government to sign a controversial migration agreement.

Giammattei, a doctor, takes over from the corruption-tainted Morales in January at the start of a four-year term.

The deal has been strongly criticized in Guatemala, not least by NGOs who say the country does not even have the resources to look after its own population.

"I congratulate Alejandro Giammattei on his election as president of Guatemala".

The highlight of this year's elections was the success of Indigenous candidate Thelma Cabrera of the Movement for the Liberation of People (MPL). "We need both Mexico and Guatemala to continue doing what they're doing", referring to Mexico's own campaign to block migrants from crossing its border with the United States.

Taking over a country also struggling with a 60 percent poverty rate, Giammattei has promised to erect an "investment wall" on the border with Mexico to curb migration.

"It implies that, in accordance with Guatemala's Constitution, that it be done with the Congress of the Republic - I think it's a long road, we'll have to see what happens in the United States with the federal judge's decision", he stated.

On another matter, the incoming leader distanced himself from Morales' unpopular decision to not renew the mandate of the United Nations -sponsored anti-corruption commission that has played a key role in sending high-ranking politicians, including ex-presidents, to jail. The commission, known as CICIG, is set to wrap up operations and decamp from the country next month. We have a lot to lose if our relationship with the United States goes south.

Last year, Morales announced that he would not renew the commission's mandate which expires next month - essentially shutting down the anti-graft group.

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