HAVANA TIMES – Bernardo Arévalo was sworn in as president of Guatemala Monday after conservative leaders attempted for months to disqualify Arévalo’s landslide victory in August’s runoff presidential election by claiming election fraud and persecuting his progressive Semilla party up until the final hours before his inauguration. Arévalo is the son of the country’s first democratically elected president, who implemented a series of revolutionary reforms from 1945 to 1951 before a CIA-backed coup ousted his successor and ushered in decades of authoritarian rule.
Many supporters see Arévalo’s presidency as a new spring for Guatemala. We discuss the battle to defend his election, the pro-democracy protests in the country and what Guatemala can expect from his leadership with three guests: Andrea Villagrán, Guatemalan congressmember with Movimiento Semilla; Lucía Ixchíu, exiled K’iche Indigenous leader; and Frank La Rue, Guatemalan human rights activist, lawyer and a member of the election observation team.
AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in Guatemala, where many say hope is blooming again after the long-delayed inauguration of the new president, Bernardo Arévalo. He was sworn in alongside Vice President Karin Herrera a few minutes past midnight Guatemala time on Monday. But that was not the time he was supposed to be sworn in. Opposition lawmakers delayed the ceremony by more than nine hours as a last-minute attempt by Guatemala’s corrupt elite to block his transition to power.
The move sparked more protest, with thousands of people pouring into Guatemala City from every corner of the country Sunday to witness this historic moment. Indigenous leaders held ceremonies and rallies, while Guatemala City’s Constitutional Plaza and Historic Center were filled with people celebrating. Arévalo spoke Monday after he was finally sworn in.
PRESIDENT BERNARDO ARÉVALO: [translated] What might appear to be simply the outcome of a political process and formal changes in institutions is in reality the starting point for a transformation that has begun in each and every one of us. In this shared horizon, we are united to weave the story of a country that we all aspire to see flourish and prosper. … We cannot become accustomed to the daily pain or look away from the mirror to avoid recognizing our painful realities. We cannot limit ourselves to dreaming of the future or clinging to the past. We must take responsibility for the present in the present. Guatemala presents us with tremendous challenges that we cannot ignore.
AMY GOODMAN: Following his inauguration, Arévalo tweeted, “Guatemala is moving forward.” In his first remarks as president, he thanked Guatemala’s youth, as well as Indigenous communities, who have led protests outside the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office.
Arévalo’s victory shocked Guatemala’s right-wing political and business elite, which has controlled much of Guatemala for decades. Since his victory in August, the Guatemalan attorney general, Consuelo Porras, unleashed a campaign to prevent him from taking office, also targeting other Semilla party members — ”semilla” means “seed” — with unfounded accusations of fraud and other claims.
Bernardo Arévalo is the son of the former President Juan José Arévalo, Guatemala’s first democratically elected leader, who pushed for revolutionary policies when he was in office from 1945 to 1951. Three years later, in 1954, the CIA backed a coup, putting an end to democracy in Guatemala. Supporters see Bernardo Arévalo’s presidency as a new spring for Guatemala.
For more, we’re joined by three guests. We begin in Guatemala City, where we’re joined by Andrea Villagrán, Guatemalan congressmember with the political party Movimiento Semilla, the Seed Movement.
Welcome to Democracy Now! and congratulations, Congressmember. It was a nail-biter right to the end on Sunday. I watched hour after hour. I think Arévalo tweeted, “Hold on, everyone. It really is going to happen.” It took almost nine hours. For us, it was after 1:00 in the morning, Monday morning. Explain the significance of his victory, of all of your victories, as the attorney general has gone after all of you for so long.
ANDREA VILLAGRÁN: Hi. Good morning. Thank you very much for the invitation.
And here in Guatemala, we are living now moments of hope and a lot of joy, knowing that finally we have a president that represents us and that is fighting corruption and represents a change of what we have seen in the last decades. It’s a change in regime from a corrupt system, from an authoritarian system, to a democratic one. People choose Semilla because people reject all the traditional practices of corruption. In the Arévalo administration, we will focus, provide to the people what we are expecting and what we are asking from a long time ago. We were going to fight against corruption and focus on rescue the democratic institutions. We will try to rescue the public services, as health and education, basic services that all Guatemalans need.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Congressmember, could you talk about the situation in the Congress with conservative lawmakers trying to stop the new president’s program? What do things look like in Congress in terms of Semilla’s ability to move legislation forward?
ANDREA VILLAGRÁN: Well, what happened in Congress is basically that there is a group of corrupt congressmembers who still want to maintain their privileges and, basically, impunity and corruption. They are trying — they even tried everything on the 14th of January to delay the Congress session by making a lot of illegal actions to avoid the transition of power. But we won in Congress. We are 160. And from 160, 92 members of Congress defend democracy. And we were able to make the transition of power by midnight on the 14th. So, I think it was — a session in Congress was really hard and really intense. But at the end, the people won. The willing of our people, who choose Bernardo Arévalo and Karin Herrera, won. Democracy won. So we were able to make the transition of power by midnight of the 14th of January.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And could you tell us something about Semilla’s history, how it developed and came to this point?
ANDREA VILLAGRÁN: Yes, the Movimiento Semilla actually born in the protests of 2015, when we were in the middle of a lot of corruption cases that we were showing how the lawmakers’, how the politicians’ abuses were affecting all o