Guatemala swears in new president, a physician opposed to gay marriage, abortion

Guatemala swore in Alejandro Giammattei, a conservative physician opposed to gay marriage and abortion, as its new president today while the country's outgoing leader exits amid swirling corruption accusations.

Guatemala's President-elect Alejandro Giammattei during a rehearsal of his swearing-in ceremony. Source: Associated Press

The 63-year-old Giammattei won the presidency on his fourth attempt in August for Vamos, a party founded in 2017 by politicians, businessmen and military officers on promises of battling poverty and providing better opportunities.

One of the early challenges facing Giammattei will be an Asylum Cooperation Agreement signed by his predecessor with the United States government. There was significant opposition to the deal inside Guatemala.

The U.S. began sending Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers to Guatemala under the agreement in November and recently said it would expand it to Mexicans. A similar deal signed with Honduras could send Guatemalan asylum seekers there.

Giammattei inherits a country in which 59% of Guatemalans live below the poverty line, according to official figures, while nearly 1 million children below age 5 are estimated to live with chronic malnutrition.

Giammattei will be working without a majority in Congress - his party captured only 17 seats.

The former surgeon suffers from multiple sclerosis, a disease of the nervous system, and uses crutches to walk.

He takes over from President Jimmy Morales who spent much of his four-year term dodging corruption charges. The former television comedian who campaigned on a promise of “not corrupt, not a thief” will possibly be most remembered for kicking out a U.N. supported anti-corruption mission that was closing in on him and members of his family.

Juan Francisco Sandoval, head of the special prosecutor against impunity office, said he hopes the future will be better without Morales.

“He was the roadblock for the fight against corruption and impunity," Sandoval said.