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article imageGiammattei, Guatemala's robust conservative, facing calls to quit

By Edgar CALDERON (AFP)     Nov 23, 2020 in World

Guatemala's under-fire President Alejandro Giammattei swept into office in January 2020 promising to clean up corruption and fight organized crime.

Just 11 months later he is facing demonstrations calling on him to quit over his government's failure to ease growing poverty and inequality.

His triumph in last year's presidential election was his first in four attempts dating back nearly two decades.

"I don't want to be seen as just another son of a bitch in the history of this country," he said during the campaign, promising a different kind of presidency in which he would tackle insecurity and treat violent gangs as terrorists.

In a post-election interview with AFP, the straight-talking Giammattei vowed to fight Guatemala's crime gangs -- responsible for more than half the country's 3,500 deaths a year -- "with testosterone".

As part of his strategy, he has pledged to revive the death penalty, which has been suspended in the Central American country since 2000.

Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei  pictured on January 27  2020  is facing demonstrations ca...
Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei, pictured on January 27, 2020, is facing demonstrations calling on him to quit over his government's failure to ease growing poverty and inequality

But his presidency has been dominated by controversy over his handling of the coronavirus, particularly deficiencies in the country's hospitals.

He has also publicly sparred with his vice president, Guillermo Castillo, who in May revealed the two had privately clashed over the best response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Castillo publicly suggested at the weekend that they should resign together to quell public anger.

- 'Neglecting poverty' -

Giammattei's critics accuse him of neglecting the fight against poverty, which affects more than half of Guatemala's almost 17 million people.

Giammattei  pictured addressing the nation on September 18  2020  has publicly sparred with his vice...
Giammattei, pictured addressing the nation on September 18, 2020, has publicly sparred with his vice president, Guillermo Castillo
Handout, Guatemalan Presidency/AFP/File

A bid by Congress to approve the 2021 budget that favors infrastructure spending over poverty relief programs, as well as health and education, was for many the last straw.

Anti-government demonstrators spilled onto the streets over the weekend to demand his resignation, at one point even setting fire to the Congress building.

"It's an authoritarian government, in a short time there is already disenchantment, indignation and discontent," said Carmen Aida Ibarra of the Pro Justice NGO.

A doctor from the conservative VAMOS party, the 64-year-old walks with crutches due to the multiple sclerosis he developed 40 years ago.

Historically, he has been known to have a hot temper.

"Those around him say he's impulsive, angry," according to investigative website Nomada, adding that he was "tyrannical" and "vindictive".


Giammattei is no stranger to controversy and has shown a resilience that may confound critics seeking his ouster.

A former head of the country's penitentiary system, he was accused of killing seven inmates while a director of one of the country's prisons.

He was imprisoned for 10 months in 2010 awaiting trial before being acquitted when prosecutors failed to prove he had played a role in the prisoners' deaths.

In his 2012 book, "Tales of an Injustice," Giammattei spoke of his bitterness at the experience, but said prison makes you view "life from a different perspective."

He has pledged to use his presidency to attack Central America's mass migration problem with measures to combat poverty, but admitted that poor Guatemalans will continue to head to the United States to seek a better life.

He has promised to review a controversial July 26 agreement with the United States under which Guatemala takes in foreign migrants while their applications for US asylum are processed.

A father of three who is separated, Giammattei is also against same-sex marriage, abortion and constitutional reforms that would promote "a globalist agenda."

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