Bernardo Arevalo wins Guatemala elections

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Bernardo Arévalo

Central America’s democratic decline has experienced a significant correction following the election of the centrist anti-corruption advocate, Bernardo Arévalo, as the President of Guatemala – an outcome that was nearly unimaginable just a few weeks ago.

In conjunction with El Salvador and Nicaragua, Guatemala was one of several Central American nations that had witnessed a troubling slide toward authoritarianism in recent years. This trend saw judges and prosecutors forced into exile and a prominent journalist imprisoned.

The election of Arévalo, who happens to be the son of Guatemala’s first democratically elected president, Juan José Arévalo, represents a strong rejection of such erosion of democracy and deeply ingrained political corruption in the most populous nation in Central America.

Speaking at a press conference after his victory, Arévalo commended the voters for their courage in turning out to “defend democracy” and securing him a resounding victory over the former first lady, Sandra Torres. With 100% of the votes counted, Arévalo had 58.01% of the votes, while Torres received 37.24%.

“Thank you, people of Guatemala. This triumph isn’t ours. It belongs to you, who supported us throughout the electoral campaign,” said the president-elect. “This victory belongs to the people and now, together, as a people, we will fight against corruption.”

Joyful supporters of Semilla, Arévalo’s party, gathered outside the Las Américas hotel in Guatemala City, where Arévalo was scheduled to speak. They honked horns, waved national flags, and cheered.

Until just a few months ago, the notion of an Arévalo presidency seemed improbable. The 64-year-old intellectual, born in Uruguay after his father was exiled following the 1954 CIA-backed coup, narrowly secured a place in the runoff election after finishing second in the first round in June with 12% of the vote. In July, the election was thrown into disarray when Guatemala’s top prosecutor unsuccessfully attempted to suspend Arévalo’s party in a widely perceived politically motivated effort to undermine his campaign. However, this move backfired, propelling Arévalo’s name further into the headlines and garnering support from across the political spectrum.

On Sunday, Guatemala’s outgoing president, Alejandro Giammattei, extended his congratulations on Twitter and invited Arévalo to the presidential palace to facilitate the transition. The new president will assume office on 14 January.

Guatemala’s progress in democracy sharply contrasts with the grim situation in El Salvador and Nicaragua. In the former, President Nayib Bukele has incarcerated approximately 1% of his country’s population as part of a highly controversial “war on gangs” and appears poised to secure a second five-year term next year, despite it being prohibited by the constitution.

In Nicaragua, the former Sandinista hero Daniel Ortega has remained in power since his election in 2006 and, at 77, shows no intention of stepping down. Ortega recently deported over 200 political prisoners to the US and revoked their citizenship.

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