Guatemalan Conservative Alejandro Giammattei swept aside his center-left rival in Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday, and now inherits an unpopular migration deal agreed under duress with the Trump administration that could severely test his country.
With preliminary results from over 95% of the polling stations counted, the electoral tribunal declared Giammattei the winner with almost 59% of the vote, ahead of his center-left rival, former first lady Sandra Torres, back on 41%.
“It will be an immense honor to be president of this country that I love so much,” Giammattei said to a crowd of cheering supporters at a news conference in Guatemala City. “We will rebuild Guatemala. I have no words to say how grateful I am.”
Alejandro Giammattei speaks at his campaign headquarters in Guatemala city, Guatemala, August 11, 2019. (Photo: CGTN)
The next president takes office in January. By then Guatemala may be bogged down in the accord reached at the behest of US President Donald Trump which aims to turn the troubled Central American country into a buffer zone to stem migration.
Yielding to the threat of a raft of economic sanctions from Trump, outgoing Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales agreed to make his country a so-called safe third country for migrants, despite its high levels of poverty and violence.
Giammattei, a trained surgeon and veteran public sector bureaucrat who had failed in three previous bids to secure the presidency, has called the accord “bad news,” saying Guatemala is not ready to cope with a potential jump in asylum-seekers.
Many Guatemalans agree with him.
"I think it's the most ridiculous thing this president could have done, because if Guatemala is mired in poverty, how is it going to take in migrants if we don’t have anything to eat ourselves?" said Mercedes Escoto, 65, a retired teacher and Giammattei supporter as she voted in Guatemala City.
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.
It is unclear how much Giammattei will be able to do to change the deal, which would require Hondurans and Salvadorans to apply for asylum in Guatemala rather than the United States. It also foresees granting US visas to some Guatemalan workers.