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Guatemalans Elect A New President In Weekend Election


In Guatemala, it appears a conservative candidate who claims to be hard on crime won the presidential election yesterday. Voter turnout was low, reflecting a deep sense of mistrust with the country's politicians. Guatemala has been struggling with desperate poverty and widespread corruption, things that have pushed hundreds of thousands of people to flee to the U.S. in recent months. Here's NPR's Carrie Kahn.


CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: At Sunday Mass in Guatemala City's downtown cathedral, worshippers were asked to pray for their new leaders.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Let's pray for those who will govern us next, and that they do so efficiently and honestly," asked several speakers.


KAHN: That's a big ask, given what a horrible job the outgoing president did, says Paula Rosales, who's selling colorful Guatemalan trinkets outside the church.

PAULA ROSALES: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Ugh. Oh, God, Guatemala is so bad," she says. "The last president stole from us, let all these migrants in and did nothing for the poor," says Rosales. She didn't vote, and according to preliminary figures, less than half of eligible voters turned out. The two candidates, former first lady Sandra Torres and conservative former prison official Alejandro Giammattei, were highly unpopular. Both have had multiple unsuccessful presidential bids before and face allegations of criminal acts and corruption.

JUAN CARLOS TEFEL: A lot of people are very disenchanted with the process.

KAHN: Juan Carlos Tefel heads Guatemala's powerful business chamber. He says, among many challenges, the new president must improve relations with the U.S. which have been strained since President Trump pressured the outgoing government to sign a controversial migration agreement.

TEFEL: At least we have to try. We have a lot to lose if our relationship with the United States goes south.

KAHN: While many details of the deal still need to be worked out, Guatemala may be forced to accept tens of thousands of migrants seeking asylum. Apparent winner Giammattei says he's ready to deal respectfully with President Trump.



KAHN: Surrounded by dozens of reporters yesterday, he said, "I'm a man accustomed to working under pressure." First-time voter Jessica Viviral, echoing the deep cynicism in the country, doubts the new president will fulfill his promises of jobs and prosperity.

JESSICA VIVIRAL: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "Really, the future is in his hands, and we don't know exactly what he's going to do. That's really scary," she says. Carrie Kahn, NPR News, Guatemala City. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Carrie Kahn is NPR's International Correspondent based in Mexico City, Mexico. She covers Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central America. Kahn's reports can be heard on NPR's award-winning news programs including All Things Considered, Morning Edition and Weekend Edition, and on NPR.org.
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