Updated Jan 15, 2024 - World

Guatemala's Bernardo Arévalo sworn in after 9-hour delay

Guatemala President Bernardo Arévalo, wearing a sash with the country's flag design, waves with his right arm after his inauguration

Guatemalan President Bernardo Arévalo waves to supporters after his swearing-in on Monday. Photo: Johan Ordóñez/AFP via Getty Images

Bernardo Arévalo was sworn in as Guatemala's new president early Monday after a nine-hour delay caused by opposing lawmakers.

The big picture: The inauguration's delay — which took place as ex-presidents and dignitaries from across the Americas, including from the U.S., waited for the ceremony — illustrates the challenges to democracy Guatemala faces. The challenges Arévalo has faced since the election also signal what's to come for the new president, who ran on an anti-corruption platform.

State of play: After months of legal maneuvers against Arévalo and his party, Movimiento Semilla, largely by the country's attorney general's office, Guatemala's Constitutional Court late last month ordered the inauguration to go forward.

  • But lawmakers on Sunday delayed the swearing-in over and over again, prompting protests and international uproar.
  • Late into the evening, a member of Movimiento Semilla was elected head of Congress and Arévalo was sworn in shortly after midnight.
  • "It fills me with deep honor to assume this lofty responsibility, showing that our democracy has the necessary strength to resist and that through unity and trust we can change the political panorama in Guatemala," Arévalo said, according to AP.
  • Arévalo thanked members of Guatemala's Indigenous community, many of whom have spent months protesting the attorney general's efforts against him.

Background: Despite presenting no evidence, the attorney general's office launched an investigation into voting fraud and raided the offices of the electoral court shortly after Arévalo's victory in August, Axios Latino's Marina E. Franco reports.

  • The attorney general's office also successfully pushed for Movimiento Semilla's registration to be annulled, although an appeal is pending.
  • Arévalo and Semilla have denied any wrongdoing, and Guatemalan constitutional lawyers say the attorney general's office doesn't have jurisdiction over party registrations or electoral court documents.

What they're saying: President Biden in a statement on Monday congratulated Arévalo and Vice President Karin Herrera.

  • "The ties between Guatemala and the United States run deep — and today's inauguration is a historic testament to our shared commitment to democracy and the will of the people," Biden said.
  • "Today is a triumph for democracy and the peaceful transfer of power," U.S. Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-Calif.), who is Guatemalan American, said in a statement.
  • "Free and fair elections are the bedrock of a healthy democratic society, and the Guatemalan people made their voices heard, despite the efforts of the corrupt few to subvert their will."

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Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details after Arévalo's inauguration.

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