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Guatemala’s Next Leader Says Subversion Plot Would Crush Economy

Guatemala’s president-elect denounced what he called a corrupt political and judicial effort to prevent him from taking office in January, warning that success for his opponents would spur an increase in migration to the US and hurt the nation’s economy and financial markets.

The economic consequences would be “disastrous” and would “without a doubt” add to the wave of migrants heading north through Mexico to the US border because of a lack of opportunities, Bernardo Arévalo said in an interview in Washington on Friday.

Arévalo, a sociologist and former diplomat won about 60% of the vote in the Aug. 20 election, compared with 39% for Sandra Torres, the wife of a former president.

If the will of the voters isn’t respected, “it’s going to mean the establishment of a thoroughly authoritarian regime in my country, the loss of hope by a population that is now desperate, but wants change and has voted for a change,” Arévalo said.

Arévalo spoke with Bloomberg News at the conclusion of a three-day visit to the US capital, where he met with officials from the White House, State Department, Congress and the Organization of American States. He also spoke at a gala for the Inter-American Dialogue think tank Thursday night.

US Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Brian Nichols, together with Juan Gonzalez, the US National Security Council senior director for the region, met with Arévalo. Following the meeting, Nichols said that the US “stands firmly on the side of the Guatemalan people, who made their voices heard” with the August election.

“Those who defend democracy will succeed,” Nichols said yesterday in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

Throughout Arévalo’s visit, he warned of attacks against him and his party in Guatemala from “corrupt actors and networks,” while continuing to express confidence that he’ll be able to take office Jan. 14.

The 65-year-old ran on a promise to weed out corruption. He has faced repeated attacks from Attorney General Consuelo Porras, with the country’s electoral authority accusing the government of undermining democracy and the election.

Prosecutors alleged that Arévalo’s Semilla party forged signatures and laundered money during its founding in 2018. Arévalo blamed corrupt officials and stayed in the race throughout attempts to disqualify the party, which led US officials to warn that Guatemala’s democracy was under threat. The Attorney General’s office has since raided the electoral authority, confiscating tally sheets and other documents related to Semilla.

The president-elect accuses Porras, prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche and court judge Fredy Orellana of trying to sabotage his victory. Arévalo has called supporters out into the streets for protests to defend democracy and denounced the actions against him and his party as a “slow-motion coup.”

Fighting corruption in Guatemala has been a dangerous endeavor. Prosecutors and judges who targeted human rights abuses and graft have been forced into exile in the face of legal persecution, with more than 20 leaving in the past three years.

Read more: Guatemalans Block Roads as President-elect Warns of ‘Coup’

Arévalo said that if he’s prevented from taking office, many countries would respond with sanctions, which would make it harder to attract the investment that Guatemala needs to generate jobs and opportunity.

“From an economic and financial point of view, it would be a terrible situation for our country,” he said.

His campaign included pledges to double public investment into the construction of roads, ports and airports. He also said he would seek an investment-grade credit rating within two years by improving the rule of law. Barclays Plc said in a note in August that the next administration will likely preserve the country’s low debt levels and macroeconomic stability.

Arévalo said that while he hasn’t yet decided on his pick for finance minister, he plans to finish his term in 2028 with less debt relative to gross domestic product than the current level, which was estimated at 29% in the International Monetary Fund’s annual evaluation of the nation’s economy in May.

The president-elect said that he wants to create in Guatemala opportunities for the poorest citizens, a group that he said in the past left the country because they were abandoned and forgotten by the government. More than 220,000 Guatemalans were encountered by Customs and Border Patrol on the US border with Mexico in the most recent fiscal year, one of the largest individual country totals in a record wave of 2.5 million people.

“People don’t migrate because they want to leave their family, abandon their land,” Arévalo said. “They migrate because they don’t have an alternative. It’s the responsibility of the government, and we will do our job, to generate the development that allows them to have these alternatives in their country.”

Read more: Guatemalan Judge Who Exposed Corruption Flees to US, Citing Fear

Arévalo is the son of former president Juan José Arévalo, who won office in 1944 in vote widely seen to be the first free democratic election in a country whose history is largely marked by dictatorships and coups. The younger Arévalo was born in Montevideo, Uruguay, where his father was living in exile following his presidency.

The president-elect served as deputy minister of foreign affairs and ambassador to Spain in the 1990s and worked on peace-building missions in Geneva before being elected to congress in 2019.

Source : BNN Bloomberg