Aug 12, 2019

Guatemala elects conservative Alejandro Giammattei president

Guatemalan candidate for the Vamos (Let's Go) party Alejandro Giammattei delivers a speech in Guatemala City on August 11

Guatemala's new president, Alejandro Giammattei, delivers a speech in Guatemala City on Saturday. Photo: Johan Ordonez/AFP/Getty Images

Guatemala’s electoral tribunal declared conservative Alejandro Giammattei the presidential election winner in a landslide victory Sunday, Reuters reports — but voter turnout was low.

Why it matters: Giammattei inherits an unpopular deal reached with the Trump administration by outgoing President Jimmy Morales, who agreed to make Guatemala a so-called safe third country for migrants, despite its high levels of poverty and violence, Reuters notes.

Context: President Trump is pressuring Latin American countries by threatening to stifle their economies or cut aid if they don't work to stop migration that is pouring into the U.S. (Trump previously threatened to cut $450 million of aid for Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador if the "failure" continues, per the New York Times.)

By the numbers: Preliminary results from over 95% of the polling stations counted show Giammattei won almost 59% of the vote, ahead of his center-left rival, former first lady Sandra Torres (41%).

  • Only 42% of Guatemala’s 8.15 million registered voters participated in the election, per the Washington Post.

The big picture: Blue Star Strategies managing director Daniel P. Erikson, a senior fellow at the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement, writes for Axios Expert Voices that Guatemala's economic growth rate is expected to be 3.3% in 2019, but concerns remain about security and droughts in agricultural regions that have propelled migration.

  • Guatemalans are frustrated and skeptical that the election will produce real change, Erikson says.

The bottom line: Per Erikson, unless the new president can renew faith in the political system and address the root causes of migration, U.S.-Guatemalan relations are likely to remain tense even after he takes office in January.

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