Former comedian Jimmy Morales assumed the Guatemalan presidency last week shortly after the U.S. began deportation raids to send Central American women and children back to their home countries.
Vice President Joe Biden attended the ceremony, marking the first time in 30 years that a high-ranking U.S. official was present at a Guatemalan inauguration. Biden has been an advocate for the Plan of the Alliance of Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, a U.S. aid package for security and development to address root causes of immigration in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador.
Morales, a political outsider, took office in Guatemala after months of anti-corruption protests that led to the resignation of former president Otto Perez Molina. Morales branded himself as the antithesis of his corrupt predecessors in a time of outrage towards pilfering political elites.
“We won’t tolerate corruption or theft,” Morales said in his inauguration address on Thursday. “Woe to that man who wants to steal the people’s money because we will be swift and severe.”
The anti-corruption agency, known as CICIG, was one condition of U.S. aid to Guatemala. Morales has eagerly accepted the continued presence of the organization.
In an interview with Latin Correspondent, the Morales expressed a willingness to work with the U.S. to combat poverty, gang violence and corruption. But he expressed concern for the restrictions of the plan.
“So the issue that I have — it’s very important to me—this issue is how am I going to do this in order to get two dollars if the national budget is committed and has certain holds that don’t depend just on the president but also depend on congress,” Morales said.
The Plan of the Alliance of Prosperity in the Northern Triangle represents an age-old dilemma for the Central American leader who must balance his autonomy with conditions attached to foreign aid, according to Susan Purcell, director for the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami.
“In a sense (the aid) locks up and constricts his choices on how to spend Guatemala’s money unless there is just about a total overlap in priorities,” Purcell said.
But from a U.S. perspective, Purcell added, Congress and the American people want to know where millions of dollars of aid are going.
“These countries need some aid in order to take on risky anti-corruption types of initiatives, but particularly to meet some development goals,” Purcell said. “The aid is necessary, but it will do some good only if it doesn’t get siphoned off through a process of corruption.”
Purcell’s final conclusion on what Morales means for U.S.-Guatemala relations: It’s still too early to tell what the next four years will bring.