With 14 participation points less than the last presidential elections, (42% up against 56% in 2015), right-wing candidate Alejandro Giammattei, wins with 58.4% of the votes. Giammattei, who is ex-prisons director for the Guatemalan government, swept to victory in Sunday’s elections in representation of the party Vamos Guatemala, a formation that represents the conservative principles of law and order, god, and the traditional family.
Increasingly less voters took to the urns, and those who did appear to have voted more against the ex-first lady Sandra Torres rather than in favour of Giammattei, a character lacking in charisma who has already presented himself for three previous presidential elections unsuccessfully (2007, 2012, 2015), and has run with four different political parties.
The winning candidate will replace outgoing president, the christian ex-comedian Jimmy Morales, who has been implicated in fraud scandals relating to his campaign financing, but who received immunity from investigation during his presidency.
Morales was also the protagonist of a crusade against the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, an organisation supported by the UN, by protecting many individuals accused of illicit activity and by expelling its international employees several times from the country. Many believe this was due to his own fear of corruption accusations against him.
Guatemala has also become the focus of migratory tension in the region. Ex-president Morales signed an agreement with the Trump administration two months ago to use Guatemala as a temporary prison for Central American migrants looking for asylum in the US.
This agreement has drawn controversy as it would also mean the denial of asylum of migrants that travel through Guatemala on their route to the United States.
With the election of Giammattei there is a lot at stake in the region, and that is why we present some keys to understanding how this presidency could impact Guatemala and beyond.
The non-continuity of the International Commission Against Impunity
The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) was created 11 years ago with the backing of the UN and the Guatemalan government. It was created with the intention of investigating “illegal security bodies and clandestine organisations that commit crimes and affect the fundamental human rights of the Guatemalan people”, and to identify their links with politicians/state employees, and their financial structures.
The commission successfully imprisoned over 300 people involved in illicit activities and human rights violations, including ex-president Otto Pérez Molina, and ex-vice president Roxana Baldetti
The commission was constantly attacked by ex-president Jimmy Morales, who has also been accused of corruption together with many of his family members including his brother.
Regardless, the commission successfully imprisoned over 300 people involved in illicit activities and human rights violations, including ex-president Otto Pérez Molina, and ex-vice president Roxana Baldetti.
However, as ex-president Morales didn’t renew the CICIG’s mandate which is due to end on the 3rd of September this year, the future of the commission depends on the incoming president Giammattei. It’s not looking positive so far, and Giammattei has already declared in public that the CICIG is officially over and that he has every intention of governing in the same vein as his predecessor.
“La CICIG is over” he said in an interview with CNN on Monday. “We’re going to make up a commission against corruption here in Guatemala for which we will ask for help to continue combating corruption”. He also stated that the new commission will be made up exclusively of Guatemalans, that worryingly come from the same corrupt political system as those being accused.
The future of the fight against corruption, organised crime, and impunity is less clear than ever. Giammattei will most likely pave the way for many crimes to remain unpunished and is unlikely to tackle the criminal networks that have dominated the country for decades.
Scandals and controversies
The new president has already been the protagonist of many scandals and controversies such as the operation ‘Pavo Real’, which he led whilst he was chief of prisons in Guatemala.
The goal of the operation carried out on the 25th of September 2006, was to recover control of the prison Granja Penal de Pavón on the outskirts of Guatemala City, which had been previously used as a centre of criminal operations and narcotrafficking, led by certain prisoners who had gained total control.
After the operation that lasted 90 minutes and with the help of the police and the army, the authorities regained control of the prison and left 6 dead in the process. Giammattei gained fame in a country tired of organised crime and impunity and became an important figure in the iron fisted fight against crime.
However, problems began with the CICIG revealed that the real intention of the operation wasn’t to regain control but to carry out extrajudicial killings of some of the inmates.
The commission demonstrated that some who had been killed had been previously tortured and others had been changed from one outfit to another after their death
The commission demonstrated that some who had been killed had been previously tortured and others had been changed from one outfit to another after their death.
With this evidence, the CICIG condemned Giammattei for illicit activities and extrajudicial murder. However, after only 10 months in prison, a national tribunal absolved him due to lack of evidence.
He continues to use this scandal to his favour in his political discourse, declaring that he was a victim of injustice and that ex-president Alvaro Colom only wanted to take him out of the presidential race by incarcerating him. He continues to deny the charges against him and claims he was never involved in any case of extrajudicial killings.
It’s clear Giammattei has few reasons to wish for the continuity of the CICIG if he himself was convicted due to their investigations, which is particularly worrying.
His profile as an iron fisted leader with limited political experience, could mean that he will encounter difficulties in making serious change and not giving in to hard headed politics encouraged by their northern ally in the White House. Even though Giammattei declared during his campaign that he was against the migratory agreement with Trump, it remains to be seen if his posture will change under northern pressure.
Giammattei was voted in by only one in four Guatemalans with the right to vote which gives him a surprisingly weak mandate. He has promised to create prosperity in Guatemala to prevent mass migration towards the north however it’s unlikely he will achieve this.
It does seem likely however that Guatemala will once more succumb to the darkness of organised crime, narcotrafficking, and political corruption and without the CICIG there to combat this, complicated days lie ahead.