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News > Latin America

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales Marks 'Inefficient' 1st Year

  • Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales looks up as he listens to national anthemat the Presidential Palace in Guatemala City, Guatemala January 11, 2017.

    Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales looks up as he listens to national anthemat the Presidential Palace in Guatemala City, Guatemala January 11, 2017. | Photo: Reuters

Published 14 January 2017

A former TV comedian was sworn in as Guatemala's president a year ago on the back of widespread public anger over government corruption.

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales doesn't have a lot of show for its first year in office, as social, Indigenous and political groups have slammed the government's actions in the first 12 months as “inefficient” ahead of the anniversary Saturday of Morales' inauguration. 

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Morales has no previous experience in government and previously worked as a TV comedian before diving into politics in the 2015 presidential race with the backing of the country's military brass. He was sworn in as president one year ago on the back of widespread public outrage over massive government corruption scandals that led to the resignation and jailing of former President Otto Perez Molina. Painting himself as a political outsider, Morales capitalized on the corruption crisis to propel his candidacy.

In his inaugural address, the president promised to fight against corruption and reconstruct the country. However, he warned his supporters that the process was going to be complicated. 

"A new Guatemala is possible, and it's worth the struggle. Of course things could be better, but I want you to bear in mind things don't change overnight," Morales said. "We're passing from the darkness of corruption to the dawn of transparency."

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Some analysts argue it is too severe to qualify Morales' first year as negative, especially considering that he inherited huge challenges in the country plagued with insecurity, poverty and corruption. 

Perhaps Morales' biggest achievement has been the increase in the percentage of Guatemalans who now have access to free medicines, which, according to official figures, is at almost 84 percent. Morales made an unexpected pick for Minister of Health in July by appointing Lucrecia Hernandez Mack, a progressive activist and daughter of murdered human rights defender Myrna Mack. 

Morales' administration has also managed to reduce the homicide rate by 5 percent, according to the National Civil Police, which registered 4,520 homicides in 2016, 258 fewer than the 2015 total of 4,778 or a rate of 29.5 per 100,000 inhabitants. 

However, Guatemala continues to have one of the highest violent crime rates in Central America and is rated in the top 25 most dangerous places to live in the world.

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Some harsh critics, such as the Indigenous Observatory, totally disapprove of the Morales government's first year. The group considers the president "incapable of governing due to his lack of vision to boost the country's development."

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Mario Itzep, the leader of the organization, said recently in a press conference that Morales "lost the opportunity to improve the quality of life of Guatemalans," adding that the poor are still most affected by systemic problems facing the country. 

Guatemala depends heavily on United States aid packages to the Central American region and its governments have been historically aligned with Washington. 

The conditions set by the U.S. include developing and implementing plans to strengthen the rule of law, create civilian, professional, and responsible police forces and limit the role of the military in police activities. 

But Washington's aid to the region has been criticized for promoting the militarized war on drugs to tackle issues like security and soaring rates of out-migration from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador while failing to address underlying problems of chronic poverty and inequality, which continue to be key challenges Morales' government must face.

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