Bernardo Arevalo: Guatemala’s next president defies odds to face greater ones

Bernardo Arevalo: Guatemala’s next president defies odds to face greater ones

Anti-graft crusader, who has followed in his father’s footsteps, ‘giving hope to people fed up with blatant levels of corruption,’ says analyst

By Laura Gamba

BOGOTA, Colombia (AA) – Bernardo Arevalo surprised many when he beat conservative candidate Sandra Torres and swept the presidential elections in Guatemala on Sunday.

“Today we accept with great humility the victory that the people of Guatemala have given us,” Arevalo said from the balcony of a hotel as hundreds celebrated the triumph of the Movimiento Semilla, or Seed Movement, party.

“You are giving a new life to Guatemala. Thank you for not losing hope, thank you for not giving in to the corrupt,” he continued.

Arevalo, 64, took second place in the first round of the elections on June 25, surpassing the four candidates who were leading in polls.

Two months later, the anti-corruption crusader, who has promised to break away from the traditional political class, won with 58% of the vote.

“The Guatemalan people were looking for a person who had no ties to the corrupt,” Pamela Ruiz, a Central America analyst at the International Crisis Group, told Anadolu.

“And they began to see themselves reflected in his way of doing politics, which led to his victory,” she added.

Arevalo’s journey, though, was far from easy. Since his strong showing in the first round, the political elite that has governed the most populous Central American country for years tried to force him out of the race.

Attorney General Consuelo Porras, accused of corruption by the US, made several attempts to block Arevalo’s party and his candidacy.

Prosecutors argued that leaders falsified signatures used to register Semilla as a political party in 2019.

A court also ordered the suspension of the party and the Guatemalan police raided its offices.

The moves were seen as politically motivated attempts to exclude Arevalo from the presidential race and boosted his candidacy, prompting an outpouring of support from across the political spectrum.

“If they had not attacked Movimiento Semilla so consistently, Arevalo would probably not have won,” Ruiz said.

“People started to say: those who lead these corrupt institutions are attacking the man, surely it is because he is doing things right.”


- Who is Arevalo?

Arevalo was born in Montevideo, Uruguay in 1958.

His parents, former Guatemalan President Juan Jose Arevalo and his second wife Margarita de Leon, were exiled from the country in 1954, after the democratically elected President Jacobo Arbenz Guzman was deposed in a US-backed coup.

As a child he also lived in Venezuela, Mexico and Chile, before finally arriving in Guatemala at age 15.

He left the country again to study sociology in Jerusalem, and then obtained a doctorate in philosophy and social anthropology in the Netherlands.

The new president has a long career as a diplomat. He was Guatemala’s ambassador to Spain and the deputy foreign minister from 1994 to 1995.

Arevalo carries the legacy of his father, Guatemala’s first democratic president, who in 1944 put an end to the 13 years of Jorge Ubico’s dictatorial rule.

His father was the driving force behind important social reforms in the country.

“My father’s name has opened doors for me, it has opened hearts, but I am not my father,” Arevalo said in a CNN interview after his victory.

“My task is to take care of his legacy and look for the solutions that the history of Guatemala demands.”

The new president brings hope for change in a country mired in poverty, violence and corruption, which drives thousands of Guatemalans to emigrate each year.

According to UN data, more than 22,000 people fled the country in 2022.

Arevalo faces the tough challenge of not having a majority in Congress, and breaking through the gridlock will be difficult in a country with deeply entrenched problems like corruption.

“It is an alternative that is giving hope to people who are fed up with blatant levels of corruption. That is what these elections represent,” said Ruiz.

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