Bernardo Arévalo’s First Month in Office and the Path Ahead for Guatemala

Photo of Bernardo Arévalo’s First Month in Office and the Path Ahead for Guatemala Discussion Inter-American Dialogue

The Arévalo administration in Guatemala confronted a myriad of challenges even before the inauguration, including what Arévalo himself called an attempted “coup” waged by powerful economic and political actors, known as the “pact of the corrupt.” As Guatemala embarks on a new chapter, the Arévalo administration encounters increasingly high expectations for transformative change. 

To consider the challenges and opportunities under Arévalo’s leadership and the outlook for Guatemala, the Inter-American Dialogue hosted an event on February 21. Dr. Rebecca Bill Chavez, Inter-American Dialogue President & CEO, opened the discussion by addressing Arévalo’s notable victory, securing a resounding 21 percent. Chavez underscored the escalating efforts by attorney general Porras to undermine the will of the Guatemalan people and the turbulent leadup to the presidential inauguration, emphasizing the important role played by Guatemala’s diverse and vibrant civil society along with the international community. 

In partnership with the OAS and the European Union, the US responded to attempts by corrupt actors to overturn the electoral outcome. This comprehensive response utilized various tools, including visa restrictions on over 300 individuals. Eric Jacobstein, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Central America, Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, commended the instrumental role played by US embassy in Guatemala, which facilitated collaboration across diverse sectors and acknowledged leaders from indigenous communities and the private sector in upholding democratic values. The US pledged support to President Arévalo, and Jacobstein highlighted shared priorities, including economic prosperity, security, and democratic governance. 

Arévalo’s Movimiento Semilla has challenged existing power structures added Ana María Méndez, Director for Central America at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). Key historical moments in Guatemala have left a lasting impact, particularly evident in a captured judicial apparatus and ongoing social resistance. Méndez warned that the lack of judicial independence and the influence of corrupt actors on the Constitutional Court's decisions could impact advancements by the Movimiento Semilla coalition and the party’s initiatives. 

Citing the challenge of combating chronic malnutrition, Juan Luis Font, Guatemalan journalist and host of ConCriterio, emphasized the need for President Arévalo's government to effectively collaborate among institutions. He critiqued Arévalo's approach, noting a reluctance to directly confront the corrupt system. While acknowledging Arévalo’s disposition towards dialogue, Font underlined the importance of reassuring voters that he is committed to tackling corruption, urging him to consider initiating reforms in the judiciary, an area yet to be addressed. 

The panelists differing views provide a glimpse into how the Guatemalan populace perceives this new presidency, characterized by cautious optimism. The inauguration of Arévalo’s administration marked a critical juncture for Guatemala and the region, showing that democracy is possible. Arévalo now faces the challenge of navigating Guatemala's complex landscape while confronting its corrupt system. 

Watch the event recording here

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