QUETZALTENANGO – In August, Alejandro Giammattei defeated former first lady, Sandra Torres, to be the next President of Guatemala. This run-off election drew only 20% of the population to the poles, signaling both a lack of enthusiasm for both candidates and a protest against the initial election, which was littered with election tampering.
Mr. Giammattei will replace Jimmy Morales, the actor/comedian -turned- government official whose presidency is known internationally for his conflict with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (commonly known in Guatemala as CICIG). CICIG is a United Nations-backed commission that was established in 2006 to combat corruption and impunity. CICIG opened an investigation that targeted Morales and his family, and then the commission was ultimately chased out of the country by Morales.
Morales is also a supporter of President Trump’s ‘safe third country’ proposal, where asylum seekers coming from Central America, or elsewhere, and crossing through Guatemala on their way to the U.S border, would need to apply for asylum to the U.S. in Guatemala. This arrangement would deliver Trump a political victory, but perhaps more importantly, as its critics point out, Guatemala has neither the resources nor the infrastructure it would need to support a surge in migrants within its borders when 47% of its children are chronically malnourished, and according to the Guardian, 250,000 of its own citizens have themselves fled the country for the U.S. over the past year alone. The Guatemalan Constitutional Court opposed the proposal and intervened to prevent Morales from meeting with Trump to discuss it further. Even though the court explicitly ruled against it, and the meeting was cancelled, the agreement was indeed signed just weeks later on July 26, 2019.
The new president promised to change the relationship between the Trump administration and Guatemala, which had been following the U.S’s lead during the Morales administration. For example Guatemala was one of the few countries countries to stand with Trump and move their Israel embassy to Jerusalem). The newly elected Giammattei, who was jailed for extrajudicial killings, and then later cleared and released, says he wants to fight corruption and change the deal signed by Morales.
Yesterday, El Salvador joined Guatemala as another one of Trump’s “safe havens” along the path north to the U.S.. Trump has threatened to block Guatemalan exports and tax Guatemalan remittances if Guatemala resists. Will Giammattei be the one to fight back? Will he be the one to tell Trump, “we are the poorest country in Central America, 47% of our children are malnourished, and hundreds of thousands are themselves fleeing for better lives in the U.S. We might not be exactly what asylum seekers had in mind when they set out seeking a safe haven.” You never know– Giammattei takes office in January 2020. I guess we’ll find out then.