By Alejandra García and Bill Hackwell – Jan 4, 2024
Guatemala’s president-elect, Bernardo Arévalo de León, will take office on January 14 with high expectations for radical change. It remains to be seen if his ambitious plan will succeed, but for the time being, any of his decisions will be a step forward in a country where 44% of the population of 17 million is Mayan and where more than 50% of the population lives in conditions of extreme poverty.
In statements to foreign press, Arévalo stated that his first action upon assuming power will be to revoke “irresponsible” and “absurd” decrees of the outgoing government of right-wing President Alejandro Giammattei. “To guarantee transparency, we have to revoke some irresponsible decrees made by this government in its last days in office,” Arévalo de León told EFE during an interview in his office, with little more than a week to go before he is sworn in as president for the 2024-2028 term.
Giammattei will leave his successor a terribly weakened State, because corruption not only steals money but also atrophies institutions, as the president-elect stressed. Arévalo, son of a former president, progressive Juan José Arévalo Bermejo (1945-1951), also described as “absurd” Giammattei’s decision to emit a decree at the end of December to provide security personnel and vehicles to the closest circle of his government for the next five years.
“More than 80 vehicles and 700 security people for a set of outgoing officials—this is absolutely unfeasible,” criticized Arévalo, who won the elections on August 20, 2023.
Another great challenge for the new president will be to make public institutions respond to the needs of the population and recover executive capacity, amid denunciations that Giammattei is responsible for the deterioration of the rule of law and democracy in the country. The outgoing president is also criticized for hindering the process of transition of powers, after the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office tried to annul Arévalo’s electoral victory. When asked about Giammattei’s attitude, Arévalo stressed that it is the people of Guatemala who will “evaluate his administration.”
Would a coup be possible in Guatemala?
There have been five months between the time of the runoff election on August 20, 2023, which Arévalo won with 61% of the vote, and his inauguration which will take place on January 14, 2024. This long period has given the oligarchs and Giammattei a lot of time to come up with all sorts of plans to create a coup atmosphere and undermine Arévalo’s mandate.
Regarding the uncertainty that has existed in these months with the winds of a possible coup d’état swirling around, the president-elect responded that fortunately the recent resolutions of the Constitutional Court have defended the people’s decision expressed at the ballots last year.
“The coup plotters are going to keep trying everything, but they are desperate,” President-elect Arévalo commented. “They know that their control is running out, and they know that we are going to start exposing the things they have done in the office. I am committed to a public service of decency, with the aim of generating tangible changes in the living conditions of the population.”
It remains to be seen if he is capable or has the will to keep his promises.