15 January 2024

Bernardo Arevalo sworn in as Guatemala’s President

15 January 2024

Bernardo Arevalo has been sworn in as Guatemala’s president, despite months of efforts to derail his inauguration and rising tensions right up until the transfer of power.

Mr Arevalo arrives in the presidency after winning August’s elections by a comfortable margin.

But nothing has been straightforward since then, with the country’s attorney general Consuelo Porras and the establishment forces observers say she represents throwing one legal challenge after another at Mr Arevalo and his party.

In his first address as leader, Mr Arevalo said: “It fills me with deep honour to assume this lofty responsibility, showing that our democracy has the necessary strength to resist and that through unity and trust we can change the political panorama in Guatemala.”

He thanked Guatemala’s youth for not losing hope and the country’s Indigenous peoples for their support, acknowledging “historic debts that we must resolve”.

He summarised his administration’s guiding principle as: “There cannot be democracy without social justice and social justice cannot prevail without democracy.”

Despite hundreds of Mr Arevalo’s supporters pressuring legislators to follow the constitution, even clashing with riot police outside the congress building on Sunday, the inauguration process dragged on for hours before he took the oath of office just past midnight.

A progressive academic-turned-politician and son of a Guatemalan president credited with implementing key social reforms in the mid-20th century, Mr Arevalo takes office with expectations of confronting Guatemala’s entrenched corruption.

He has little support in congress and Ms Porras’ term as the top law enforcement official extends to 2026, though Mr Arevalo has said one of his first orders of business will be to request her resignation.

Congress, which was supposed to attend the inauguration as a special session of the legislature, engaged in bitter infighting over who to recognise as part of the congressional delegation.

The leadership commission tasked with doing that was packed with old-guard opponents of Mr Arevalo, and the delay was seen as a tactic to draw out the inauguration and weaken the new President.

Mr Arevalo wrote in his social media accounts that “they are trying to damage democracy with illegalities, inconsequential details and abuses of power”.

Representatives from the US government and Organisation of American States have called on the Guatemalan congress to respect the country’s constitution.

Ms Porras had tried every legal trick in the book to put Mr Arevalo on trial or in jail before he could take office. And Mr Arevalo’s party will not have a majority in congress, and may not even have formal recognition there.

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