Weekly Report - 18 January 2024 (WR-24-02)

Guatemala’s Arévalo defies odds to take office

“Guatemala’s democracy and the will of Guatemalan voters triumphed over corrupt and antidemocratic forces.” This was the response by Brian Nichols, a senior Western Hemisphere official at the US State Department, which appeared to sum up international relief at the inauguration of anti-corruption outsider Bernardo Arévalo as Guatemala’s new president on 14 January. Subject to doubt amid multiple challenges thrown up by the discredited attorney general’s office, led by US-sanctioned María Consuelo Porras, and a network of institutional corruption, Arévalo’s inauguration marks a rare ray of hope both in Guatemala, which saw a major backsliding in democracy under Alejandro Giammattei (2020-2024), and the sub-region, where authoritarian leaders Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua and Nayib Bukele of El Salvador reign supreme. However, Arévalo, who has invoked the legacy of his father, reformist former president Juan José Arévalo (1945-1951), faces enormous challenges in delivering on his anti-corruption pledge – not least from Porras (who remains in her post), a hostile legislature, and other institutions controlled by the corrupt elite.

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