BELIZE CITY, Mon. Aug. 12, 2019– Guatemalans went to the polls yesterday, Sunday, August 11, to elect a new president in the second round of balloting, which saw a low voter turnout, with only 45 percent of eligible voters casting ballots. At the end of the day, Alejandro Giammattei had been elected as the new president of Guatemala.
Giammattei, a former chief of the country’s prison system, beat out Sandra Torres, a former Guatemalan first lady who had come out on top in the first round of voting in June.
Giammattei, 63, a doctor, had made three other runs for the presidency, each under the banner of different political parties.
This time, Giammattei succeeded under the banner of the conservative Vamos party, described as a right wing political party. Giammattei uses crutches because he has multiple sclerosis.
The new Guatemalan president has had his own share of troubles when he headed the country’s prison system and was detained for 10 months in what has been described as pre-trial detention in 2006, the same year he took over the Pavón prison system and 7 inmates died during an operation that he led. He was along with eight others who had been arrested, but was eventually cleared of charges due to lack of evidence.
The new Guatemalan president will be sworn into office in January, but observers are already pointing to a controversial “safe country” immigration measure that outgoing Guatemalan president, Jimmy Morales, signed with the Trump administration in Washington.
Before he was elected, Giammattei told Reuters that he wanted to see what could be done to improve a deal agreed by the Morales administration with the United States that would make Guatemala a safe haven where migrants headed to the United States could apply for asylum.
Critics of the Safe Third Country Agreement are saying that President Morales signed it amidst threats of sanctions from US president Donald Trump, and that he signed it to protect himself. Morales has been under investigation on allegations of corruption.
Now four years after Guatemalans took to the streets in protest against President Otto Perez Molina, forcing him from office, many Guatemalans feel that not enough has been done during the Jimmy Morales administration to fight corruption.
Corruption, therefore, remains one of the major issues plaguing the Central American country, and its newly elected president has not indicated if he will renew the United Nation’s International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CIGIG), due to expire in September.
Speaking to supporters after he was declared the winner, Giammattei said, “It will be an immense honour to be president of this country that I love so much. We will rebuild Guatemala. I have no words to say how grateful I am.”
While Giammattei waits to be inaugurated in January, among the policies he will inherit from the Morales administration is the process that has been started of submitting his country’s claim to Belize’s territory to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) for a final settlement.
With the claim going for adjudication at the ICJ, however, the Guatemalan Armed Forces (GAF) continues to violate Belize’s territorial integrity with apparent impunity, since the two countries have not been able to come up with a protocol on the use of the Sarstoon River, which divides the two counties in the south.
GAF officers continue to insist that the entire Sarstoon River is “Guatemalan territory,” and if the description of the right-wing Giammattei holds true, he is closely aligned with the Guatemalan military class, which could mean that Belize may be in for a rough ride under his administration.