Published: Wed, August 14, 2019
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Guatemala’s next president seeks better U.S. migrant deal, hindered by split Congress

Guatemala’s next president seeks better U.S. migrant deal, hindered by split Congress

Alejandro Giammattei of Vamos, a right-wing party, won the second round of general elections held in Guatemala on August 11 with 59.47% of votes.

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.

Large numbers of Guatemalan migrants have appeared at the US border to seek asylum. "I hope that during this transition the doors will open to get more information so we can see what, from a diplomatic point of view, we can do to remove from this deal the things that are not right for us, or how we can come to an agreement with the United States", he said.

With preliminary results from over 99 percent of polling stations counted, the electoral tribunal declared Giammattei the victor with more than 58 percent of the vote, ahead of his center-left rival, former first lady Sandra Torres, with 42 percent.

A poll published this week by Guatemalan newspaper "Prensa Libre" showed more than eight out of 10 respondents rejected the idea of the country accepting foreign migrants seeking asylum.

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.

The signal sent by the U.S. now is not "there is a new system for the huddled masses", but "The United States is not open for you at all". 63-year old Giammattei focused his campaign on building a "wall of investment" along Guatemala's border with Mexico, in order to generate jobs and reduce migration. But Giammattei also indicated he wouldn't work to bring back the commission, known as CICIG.

He has pledged to attack the grinding poverty that affects some 60 percent of Guatemala's 17.7 population, as well as a murder rate of 4,500 per year, key drivers of illegal migration to the United States.

"The incoming administration will have limited support in an atomized Congress, raising the risks for continued political gridlock", Fitch Director Carlos Morales said in a statement.

"The mandate has been terminated; the United Nations accepted that", he said.

"We could create a enormous pole of development that could benefit both countries", he said, adding that he would plead his case in Mexico City as well as in Washington during the transition period.

"(This) is a huge loss for Guatemala", said Adam Isacson, an expert on defense and border security at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a think tank.

Guatemala President Jimmy Morales speaks during the official opening ceremony of the Guatemala embassy in Jerusalem on May 16, 2018.

But the Trump administration was unlikely to do much to complement such efforts, Beltran added.

"The CICIG was very successful in putting people in jail, as in the case of La Linea", Giammattei said, referring to the name given to the customs racket the CICIG helped bust in 2015 to impeach then-President Otto Perez, who is now in prison.

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