Right-wing Alejandro Giammattei is set to swear in as Guatemala’s new president on Tuesday with a vow to tackle corruption, replacing the unpopular Jimmy Morales.
Giammattei, 63, was elected in August after defeating former first lady Sandra Torres in a second round run-off vote. Torres has since been placed under investigation for illicit campaign funding related to her 2015 presidential bid.
One month after the election the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), UN-backed anti-corruption body, shut down because president Morales refused to extend its mandate.
Morales, elected in 2015 on an anti-corruption ticket, had become angered that the CICIG had started investigating members of his own family.
President-elect Giammattei did not oppose the move. The CICIG had investigated Giammattei for the murder of prisoners during his time 2006-2007 as prisons director, but acquitted him due to a lack of evidence.
Giammattei said he’ll replace the CICIG with a government anti-corruption commission aided by international funding.
The “cursed and disgusting” corruption had “robbed” Guatemalans of security, employment, education, health and even “their dreams,” he told AFP in an interview last year.
But rights groups are worried for the future of the anti-corruption battle.
Alvaro Montenegro, an activist at the Justicia Ya (Justice Now) collective wrote an article for the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) insisting that there remained a risk to the “anti-corruption legacy” from those with the power to influence.
Montenegro said Guatemala was in the middle of an “unprecedented” anti-corruption popular movement led by the work of CICIG, which said in September it had dismantled 70 criminal structures, brought 600 people to trial and obtained 400 convictions since it began operations in 2007.
But Montenegro says that Morales, his allies in Congress and powerful economic figures forced out CICIG — and now “these groups will reverse much of the progress” made.
“This puts at serious risk certain key issues regarding the state of law and justice in Guatemala, including the independence of the Public Ministry (Attorney General’s office) and the other justice institutions,” said Montenegro.
Aldo Davila, the first openly gay lawmaker in Guatemala, told AFP that Giammattei is expected to govern differently than Morales, who “was always on the side of corruption and impunity.”
Giammattei as pledged to reduce poverty amongst Guatemala’s 15 million people from almost 60 percent today to just 25 percent by 2032.
Poverty is one of the major factors driving migrants to trek across Central America in a bid to reach the United States, something that has caused friction with President Donald Trump’s administration in Washington.
Colombia’s conservative president Ivan Duque is among the foreign dignitaries to attend Giammattei’s inauguration.
On Monday, Giammattei claimed criminal gangs had threatened to kill him during his inauguration.