President-Elect will need to build broad accord.

Guatemala's right-wing president-elect Oscar Berger will need to face the challenge of drumming up the political support necessary to address pressing economic and social needs, say analysts.

The Great National Alliance (GANA) candidate, who takes office Jan. 14, will have to call on other political forces ''to take part in a broad national accord that would allow him to implement policies in which the different sectors are represented,'' independent analyst Fernando Solís told IPS.

In Sunday's runoff election, Berger, a businessman, garnered 54.1 percent of the vote, beating out his rival Alvaro Colom of the centrist National Unity of Hope (UNE), who took 45.8 percent, the Supreme Electoral Court reported after 94 percent of the ballots were tallied.

The election went smoothly, unlike the first round on Nov. 8 which was marred by a number of violent incidents.

But the social outlook is bleak in a country where at least 57 percent of the population of 12.4 million lives below the poverty line.

''The new president must call on the rest of the parties to join together in a national pact, because otherwise the country will descend into ungovernability, given that there are many hidden agendas,'' said Solís.

President Alfonso Portillo of the far-right Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG) will hand over to Berger a country with a dismal international image, plagued by denunciations of links between the state and groups involved in drug trafficking, kidnapping and car theft, and unable to bring human rights violators to justice.

In 2002, the U.S. government labelled Guatemala one of the most corrupt countries in Latin America, and refused to re-certify it as cooperating in the fight against drugs, in Washington's annual ''certification'' exercise.

Compounding the corruption is the fragility of the legal system and the shakiness of the economy.

''The new government will have to work on the basis of agreements with other sectors because it will be dealing with a highly fragmented Congress, in which no political force has an absolute majority,'' said Solís.

GANA has 47 of the 158 seats in the single-chamber parliament, followed by the FRG (44), UNE (32), and the National Advance Party (17).

The rest of the lawmakers belong to small parties, such as the six who represent the leftist New Nation Alliance.

''It must be pointed out that the parties making up Congress are all right-wing forces, and that the left cannot even hope to play the role of mediator,'' said Solís.

GANA, a coalition comprised of the Patriotic Party, the Revolutionary Movement and the National Solidarity Party, defeated nine other parties in the first round, including the governing FRG.

The FRG had hoped to maintain its hold on power through its candidate Efraín Ríos Montt (1982-1983), a former dictator accused of some of the most appalling human rights abuses committed in Guatemalan history.

In Solís's view, achieving a wide political accord to set up a new ''fiscal pact'' aimed at improving tax collection and strengthening the economy is one of the key challenges facing Berger.

''A serious debate on the economy is urgently needed, because macroeconomic stability is weak. But no government can push through changes on its own,'' said the analyst.

Another independent analyst, Alvaro Velásquez, noted that one of the positive aspects of Berger's arrival to power is the confidence his victory has awakened among national and foreign investors.

But Velásquez said the 56-year-old president-elect will also have to address pressing questions like the need to combat the social marginalisation of Guatemala's indigenous people, who make up more than 65 percent of the population, the devastating poverty facing a majority of Guatemalans, and a bulky fiscal deficit.

Another hot issue is the free trade agreement that Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and Honduras negotiated this month with the United States, which must now be ratified by the respective legislatures.

The precise content of the free trade deal has not been divulged, and the agreement has drawn heavy resistance from business sectors and small farmers in the region.

A day before the deadline for the completion of the negotiations, Costa Rica pulled out, demanding more time to study the content of the accord.

During the campaign, Berger, who is not familiar with the trade agreement, merely said that he would support it, said Velásquez.

The analyst added that he was concerned that the new governing party lacks a well-defined plan to fight poverty.

''No one ever said where the funds (for Berger's campaign promises in that area) would come from, and the same goes for all of the major issues facing the country,'' said Velásquez.

In his view, Berger cannot ignore, as previous administrations have done, the 1996 peace agreement which put an end to a 36-year civil conflict that claimed 200,000 lives, according to a U.N.-sponsored truth commission.

The truth commission's report blamed the army for 93 percent of the selective murders, massacres, forced disappearances, and other human rights violations, and held guerrilla groups responsible for three percent.

Another challenge that Berger must face is the need to uproot impunity, said Velásquez, who pointed out that most of the country's human rights violators are free and unlikely to ever be held accountable in court for the crimes committed during the armed conflict.

The peace accord did not merely outline steps for achieving real justice and reconciliation, but also focused on resolving the deeper underlying causes of the civil conflict, such as the marginalisation in which the country's Mayan Indians are steeped, and the severe troubles facing the agricultural sector.

The peace deal also stipulated a reduction in the size of the army, reforms of the state and the tax system, reparations for victims of the conflict, and plans for the social reintegration of former combatants.

But there are many tasks pending to fully implement the broad agenda of the peace accord, said Velásquez.

''The basic causes that gave rise to the armed conflict in 1960, like Guatemalans' lack of economic and social rights, have not yet been resolved,'' said activist Orlando Blanco of the National Coordinator of Human Rights in Guatemala.

Blanco hopes the new government will take steps to guarantee the safety of human rights activists, which the Portillo administration has done little to defend.

But he took a wait-and-see attitude, because the president-elect has not announced clear plans on that front.

Nor has he shown any interest in reconverting the army, which maintains enormous influence, noted Blanco.

The rise in common crime is another pressing concern in Guatemala, one of the most violent countries in Latin America.

Berger will be the sixth democratically elected president since 1986, when General Oscar Humberto Mejía handed over the presidential sash to Vinicio Cerezo (1986-1991).

He was succeeded by Jorge Serrano Elías (1991-1993), who resigned after a failed coup attempt. After that came Ramiro de León Carpio (1993-1996) and Alvaro Arzú (1996-2000), whose administration signed the peace accord and introduced democratic reforms in the constitution, which were ratified by voters in a referendum.

President Portillo, former dictator Ríos Montt's protégé, has governed the country since then.

[Source: José Eduardo Mora, IPS, San Jose, 29Dec03]

DDHH Guatemala

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