A Victory of Democracy Over Corruption in Guatemala
A day of tension as lawmakers tried to block president Arévalo from taking office
Well into the early morning hours, after a day of spurious delays, legal attacks, and accusations by Guatemala’s political ruling class, Bernardo Arévalo de León was finally sworn in as president.
The social democrat’s official assumption of office represents a victory over months of political maneuvering and anti-democratic actions by the country’s legislative and judicial branches, which Arévalo has described as “the efforts of an elite political and economic class to undermine the will of the people.”
Arévalo surprised the political world by coming from behind in presidential elections to win overwhelmingly on promises to fight endemic corruption in Guatemala.
But no sooner had he won than the same elites he promised to combat began to undermine his victory.
Corrupt prosecutors attempted to undermine the election results through unsupported allegations of fraud, raiding the offices of his political party, Movimiento Semilla, which was eventually officially disbanded, and on the day when he was to be sworn in, tried to block him from taking office through procedural shenanigans.
Protests, organized in support of Arévalo, in large part by indigenous communities have been in the streets for months, advocating for the president-elect against what they have described as a “coup d'etat” by corrupt officials.
For them, Sunday started off as a celebration in the streets, but after Congress refused to accredit lawmakers from Movimiento Semilla, and thereby halt Arévalo’s assumption of office, street parties quickly turned into protests instead.
Guatemalans at times clashed with police, storming barricades erected by law enforcement to reach Congress, where thousands demanded that the will of the people be respected, and that Arévalo be sworn into office.
Many foreign heads of state and representatives were already in Guatemala City to attend the ceremony, including Boric from Chile, Petro from Colombia, and representatives from Mexico.
As the swearing-in ceremony was delayed by outgoing lawmakers, guests issued a joint-communique urging Congress “to respect the will of the people”.
Finally, well after midnight, after a statement by Guatemala’s Election Judiciary body that lawmakers must respect the results of elections, Arévalo was sworn in.
"Never again authoritarianism",he proclaimed after accepting the presidential sash.”
He credited indigenous protesters and youth activists for his victory, thanking them for fighting against the forces that sought his ouster before he even took office.
"The people of Guatemala have demonstrated their wisdom, and institutions such as the Constitutional Court and the Supreme Electoral Tribunal have protected the sovereign desire of Guatemalans to live in democracy," the president said in his first speech.
Arévalo has vowed to fight corruption and implement economic reforms in the Central American country, where more than 30% of citizens live below the poverty line.
For his supporters, it was an unlikely victory of democracy over corruption. His administration begins after more than 100 days of protests in the streets.