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Alejandro Giammattei, Guatemala's President-Elect, To Take Office

NOEL KING, HOST:

Guatemala gets a new president today. He's a former surgeon, a social conservative. And some analysts doubt whether he can ease the poverty and violence that have led so many people to flee Guatemala. Maria Martin has the story.

MARIA MARTIN, BYLINE: The U.S. delegation to the inauguration of President Alejandro Giammattei includes Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf. One of the biggest questions is whether Guatemala will support a controversial asylum agreement it signed with the U.S. last July. So far, the new president has sent out mixed signals. But many analysts believe the threat of increased tariffs on Guatemalan exports will force the new president's hand.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ALEJANDRO GIAMMATTEI: (Speaking Spanish).

(APPLAUSE)

GIAMMATTEI: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTIN: At his victory rally, Giammattei promised to build a new Guatemala, creating peace and progress and ending malnutrition and violence while putting an end to what he called disgusting corruption. Outgoing President Jimmy Morales expelled a U.N.-backed International Anti-Corruption Commission. Giammattei has talked about a national anti-corruption project, but civil society activist Manfredo Marroquin doesn't see much hope for real change under the new administration.

MANFREDO MARROQUIN: (Speaking Spanish).

MARTIN: Marroquin says, "Giammattei is in the mold of traditional politicians in Guatemala. He's not proposing specific reforms," he says, "nor guaranteeing he'll make the fight against corruption a priority."

What Giammattei is making a priority is to stimulate business and investment in Guatemala. He says that will trickle down and put an end to cost of migration. But journalist Juan Luis Font says his proposals may benefit only a small sector of Guatemalan society.

JUAN LUIS FONT: Its major plans are shaped to stimulate the formal economy of the country. However, we have to think that 60% of the Guatemalan population lives out of this formal economy.

MARTIN: Giammattei has spent the last 13 years running for president under the banner of four different parties. Professor Jo-Marie Burt, a Guatemala expert with the Washington Office on Latin America, questions the alliances he's had to make in the process.

JO-MARIE BURT: The hard-line military, for example, he has very close associates among his advisers. And in his proposed Cabinet are former counterinsurgency officials. Some of them participated in an attempted coup in 1993. Some of them have alleged ties with organized crime and drug trafficking.

MARTIN: Giammattei won't enjoy a large popular mandate. He received only 14% of the vote in the first-round election. But in the second round, he faced off against a highly disliked former first lady accused of corruption - this after more popular candidates had been barred from running. Giammattei's biggest challenge may be how to deal with a skeptical citizenry, more than a million of whom have felt the need to seek new lives in the United States.

For NPR News, I'm Maria Martin.

(SOUNDBITE OF BONOBO'S "ANIMALS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.