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Guatemala's president is sworn in despite opponents' efforts to stop it


In Guatemala, there was a giant victory for democracy overnight.


Just a few hours ago, Bernardo Arevalo was sworn in as the country's new president. And it came despite months of efforts to prevent his inauguration that saw rising tensions both in the halls of Congress and on the streets right up until the transfer of power.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Eyder Peralta has been up all night. He joins us now from Guatemala City. Eyder, let's just start off by telling us what happened there.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Oof - I mean, where do I start? It was full of drama, remarkable in every way. The day started with everyone thinking that this was going to be a celebration. The king of Spain, the presidents of Colombia, Honduras and Chile flew in. And the new Congress was supposed to be sworn in at 8 a.m. And then in the afternoon, we learned that the old Congress was refusing to swear in the new Congress. And it was that new Congress that gets to swear in the new president. So all of the young people who won congressional elections, along with the president, interrupted a meeting. There was pushing and swearing inside Congress. And outside on the streets, the people took matters into their own hands. Let's listen.

UNIDENTIFIED GROUP: (Chanting in Spanish).

PERALTA: So now the Indigenous groups have taken to the streets of Guatemala. This was supposed to be a day of celebration, and now it has turned into a day of protest. "Not one step back," they're shouting, "not one step back."

HUGO CHAVEZ: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: And that man is named Hugo Chavez (ph). He was facing off with cops in front of Congress. And he's saying that our anthem calls us to triumph or die. And any one of us could be killed at any moment, he said. But here we are, doing something we believe in for something that matters. But what followed were hours of more stalling by the outgoing Congress. I mean, the sun went down. Some of those foreign dignitaries got tired of waiting, and they left. And Guatemala had not sworn in a president.

MARTÍNEZ: So why were they trying to stop this inauguration?

PERALTA: I mean, look, Guatemala has descended into a really dark political cynicism. People here say the country is run by a pact among corrupt politicians, and this is craven corruption, downright grabbing of millions of dollars that should be going towards schools and hospitals in a really poor country. President Bernardo Arevalo is an outsider. His campaign was born at a university and out of an anti-corruption movement, and his win was grassroots, an unprecedented coalition between a young urban crowd and rural indigenous people. And that scares the corrupt. They can't buy those votes, and they think that this government might very well throw them in jail. So they've done everything to try to stop Arevalo from getting to power.

MARTÍNEZ: In the end, they couldn't stop the inauguration, though.

PERALTA: They couldn't. And Bernardo Arevalo finally came out to meet his supporters. He came out on the balcony of the National Palace, and people here were just chanting over and over, yes, we did it - yes, it could be done, almost a whole 24 hours before it was supposed to have started.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta reporting from Guatemala City. Thank you very much.

PERALTA: Thank you, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.