Former comedian is sworn in as President of Guatemala | News | DW | 15.01.2016
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Former comedian is sworn in as President of Guatemala

Former comedian Jimmy Morales, who has run on an anti-corruption platform, has emerged as the winner of a landslide election. He was sworn in as the new president of Guatemala, but faces herculean challenges.

Jimmy Morales is a former comedian who has never held elected office, but on Thursday he was sworn in as the new president of Guatemala – a country beset by widespread poverty, endemic corruption and vicious gang warfare.

An evangelical Christian, Morales won a landslide election victory almost three months ago, running on a full-throated anti-corruption platform. He now faces an enormous challenge.

If ever the expression, "up the creek without a paddle" was an apt metaphor for the political challenge faced by one man, it could well be applied to Morales.

Edgar Gutierrez, an analyst at San Carlos University in Guatemala, summed up the new president's seemingly insurmountable tasks - which is exacerbated by a lack of resources.

"He is a president who takes office without a party, without well-qualified people he trusts and with a state apparatus that's really in financial and institutional ruin," said Gutierrez.

And that's not all. Morales' center-right National Convergence Front party controls just 11 out of 158 seats in the new Congress. He still hasn't unveiled the make up his Cabinet, and he has already suffered one political setback, with prosecutors formally launching de facto impeachment proceedings against an allied lawmaker suspected of human rights violations during Guatemala's civil war.

Edgar Justino Ovalle and others are suspected of human rights abuses during the country's 36 years long conflict, which ended in 1996. The war left about 250,000 people dead or missing. Many were indigenous Guatemalans slain in countryside massacres.

Corruption is the problem

Guatemala - Jimmy Morales Vereidigung als Präsident

President Jimmy Morales waves after being sworn in

But corruption will almost surely define Morales' presidency. His predecessor Perez Molina and his vice president are behind bars and facing prosecution on corruption charges. Morales' election was seen as a public rebuke of the corrupt status quo that has long beset Guatamalan politics and public administration.

His spokesman Heinz Heimann promised Morales' administration would be marked by "strict adherence to the law."

Beyond the central issue of corruption is the plight of a country of 16 million racked by gang violence. There were 6,000 murders last year, and streams of people continue heading north, seeking safety and a better life in the United States.

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Vice President Joe Biden attended the inauguration and met with Morales and the leaders of El Salvador and Honduras. All three Central American nations have exorbitantly high murder rates, and thousands - if not millions - of their residents seeking safety in the US.

Last year the US Congress approved $750 million (690 million euros) in aid to the three countries; contingent on their efforts to reduce migration to the US and the factors driving it.

bik/rc (AP, Reuters, AFP)

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