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Transfer of presidential authority in Guatemala, 2016

GUATEMALA CITY, Thurs. Jan. 14, 2016–The hope of a people that corruption will not find a resting place in government lies with James Ernesto Morales Cabrera, better recognized as ex-comedian Jimmy Morales, 46, who today will become the 50th president of Guatemala.

As is customary, every 4 years on January 14, the neighboring republic swears in a new president in a process termed “Transmisión del Mando Presidencial” (TMP) or the transfer of presidential authority.

Morales, from the National Convergence Front party, won the second round of presidential elections with just under 70 percent of votes last October, comfortably beating out his opponent, Sandra Torres of the National Unity of Hope (Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza, UNE) party.

The selection of the ex-comedian signaled the desire of the Guatemalan masses for a fresh start. It followed some very intense moments since the beginning of last year, and in particular since March, when the populace—tired of perceived corruption within the highest levels of Government—began holding sustained mass demonstrations in the capital.

In fact, Public Prosecution, with the help of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, CICIG), a United Nations entity, was able to uncover massive corruption under a customs scheme called “La Linea,” which defrauded government of millions of dollars.

Ultimately, the probe ended in multiple arrests of top government officials and the apprehension of the Vice President, Roxana Baldetti, and finally, the fall of the president, Otto Pérez Molina, who now sits in jail awaiting trial on corruption charges.

To fill the unexpected vacuum, a caretaker president, in the person of Alejandro Maldonado, was sworn in on September 3, 2015 as the 49th president of Guatemala.

In the last moments of his presidency, Maldonado alongside president-elect Jimmy Morales, handed over houses to mudslide victims in El Cambray II, Guatemala City.

The natural disaster on October 1, 2015 has had some bearing on the naming of Morales’ cabinet, which alongside a plan for his administration, has been unusually closely guarded.

Yesterday, Morales confirmed that Williams Mancilla, the Minister of Defense, who comes across from the Maldonado presidency, will remain, as will the current communications minister, Victor Corado. The two are in charge of the housing project, titled “Mi Querida Familia,” for the mudslide victims. They are expected to remain in those posts at least temporarily, so they can see the project to its end.

Meanwhile, it has been widely rumored that Carlos Raúl Morales, who served as Foreign Minister under Molina and Maldonado, will remain in that position.

Morales would not confirm the report, indicating that he had an employment offer from the Organization of American States (OAS), and would decide after consulting family and friends whether to take it up. Yesterday, though, Amandala saw the Foreign Minister as part of Jimmy Morales’ envoy, as he moved around the city, with heavy security detail.

That same level of security was visible at the Centro Miguel Ángel Asturias, ahead of the president’s swearing-in set for 3:00 p.m.

Expected to be in attendance are Heads of State from North to South America. For the first time in 30 years, a vice president of the US will be at such a ceremony in Guatemala. We checked but were informed that Vice President Joe Biden, like Jimmy Morales, would not give an interview or hold a press conference during the events surrounding the TMP.

Belize’s delegation is headed by Prime Minister Dean Barrow. Last November, during his visit to Belize, Jimmy Morales personally invited Barrow to attend the inauguration and the Prime Minister said he would participate, health permitting. Barrow is accompanied by his CEO Audrey Wallace and the Ambassador of Belize to Guatemala, H.E. Alexis Rosado.

As part of the TMP, this morning, a new congress was sworn in and tomorrow, Morales will address the military, as is the tradition. On that note, notwithstanding his attempts to distance himself during the campaign and after the elections, it was revealed that Morales was being backed by the ever powerful Guatemala military. Therefore, for the people of Guatemala, it has yet to be seen if Jimmy Morales will indeed usher in a new era.

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