Guatemala’s new president to ask for society’s help in face of opposition from entrenched powers

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — President Bernardo Arévalo said Thursday that with his political party suspended, little support in congress and an attorney general in hot pursuit, he will appeal to the Guatemalan people to help him overcome the entrenched old guard and achieve the change he campaigned on.

“We are clear that in the current context, we depend on society and convincing them that together we begin to row,” Arévalo told The Associated Press in an interview two weeks after his inauguration. “We can’t depend on a political system where those criminal and patronage networks still lurk.”

Arévalo won the presidency in August, beating the establishment candidate by a comfortable margin. He is the son of a former president credited with implementing some of Guatemala’s key labor protections, but Arévalo’s strong showing in a crowded field was still a shock.

The thoughtful politician with a background in academia and conflict resolution caught fire with a message of challenging the country’s entrenched power structure and resuming the fight against corruption.

The face of the resistance to change is Attorney General Consuelo Porras. Sanctioned by the U.S. government for allegedly undermining Guatemala’s democracy, Porras has used her office’s autonomy to pursue Arévalo and his party since he won a spot in the presidential runoff election last year.

Arévalo wants her out, but she has so far refused to go.

The president said Thursday that Porras’ office “is where the perverse system remains anchored and we are looking for the legal means of resolving this.”

Her term runs through 2026.

“We’re not sure she’s going to finish her term because there are actions in congress and legal actions,” Arévalo said. “What interests us is that the Attorney General’s Office stops acting against the law and against the democratic institutionality of the state.”

With only days in power, Arévalo said the level of existing corruption was evident.

“There are ministries where you just have to open a drawer and (the corruption) jumps out at your face, because the arrogance about the impunity was such that they didn’t even try to hide it,” he said.

Speaking in the wood-paneled presidential office, Arévalo said that upon his inauguration his 98-year-old mother, Margarita de León, gave him advice: “Now you are president, respect your father’s memory and may God enlighten you.”

Arévalo’s father, Juan José Arévalo Bermejo, served as president in 1945-1951, ushering in what came to be known as Guatemala’s “spring.” He later went into exile in Uruguay where the younger Arévalo was born.

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