Conservative Alejandro Giammattei’s victory in Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday has cast doubt on the future of an unpopular migration deal agreed with Washington by the former administration.
With preliminary results from nearly all the polling stations counted, the electoral tribunal declared Mr Giammattei the winner with almost 58 per cent of the vote, ahead of his centre-left rival, former first lady Sandra Torres, who secured 42 per cent.
The 63-year-old doctor and politician, who won at his fourth attempt to reach the presidency, will be sworn into office in January.
“We are confident that we have the support of the majority of the people to build a different Guatemala, but we know that the challenges are not easy,” Mr Giammattei said at a press conference after his victory.
“We have a divided country, with serious problems of misery and poverty, a country that is expelling its own people by the thousands. We know that it will not be easy.”
Both candidates had campaigned on platforms targeting violence, corruption and poverty in the country of 17.7m bordering Mexico. Fifty-nine per cent of the population live in poverty, a factor that, together with violent crime — which kills an estimated 4,500 annually — has prompted many Guatemalans to try to emigrate.
The vote was carried out amid uncertainty surrounding the widely criticised agreement with Washington that designates Guatemala a “safe third country” or buffer zone to take migrants trying to reach the US. With its own population struggling with poverty and a lack of adequate infrastructure, critics say Guatemala is in no position to accommodate migrants.
The agreement was signed last month, after US president Donald Trump threatened to tax remittances to Guatemala and to raise tariffs on its exports.
Before the election Mr Giammattei said: “Guatemala is not willing to be a safe third country. If we cannot serve our own people, imagine serving strangers.”
He told Reuters in an interview shortly before the election results were announced that the agreement did not suit the country since it had no capacity to help migrants.
“[We will see] what we can do to be able to take out of that agreement the things that do not suit the country or what we can do to reach an agreement with the US government to be able to calm the waters,” he told Reuters.
Martín Rodríguez Pellecer, the director of Nómada, a Guatemalan newspaper focused on migration, said he did not believe the agreement with the US would reduce the flow of migration and could lead to Mr Trump making good on his threat of tariffs or other measures. To do so, he said, “would strangle us economically”.
Among his campaign promises, Mr Giammattei said he would build “a wall of prosperity” to keep Guatemalans from migrating to the US. He wants to attract more foreign investment to Guatemala by strengthening the protections granted to private property.
Despite Mr Giammattei’s campaign promises, fewer than 50 per cent of registered voters took part. In some places such as the Petén rural area, known for its rampant violence, participation did not exceed 30 per cent of the census, the worst performance since the end of the civil war in 1996.