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Arzu Guatemala’s New President

Tue., Jan. 9, 1996

Businessman Alvaro Arzu was elected Guatemala’s next president by a narrow margin of just 31,900 votes, with 51.22 percent, the Federal Electoral Tribunal announced Monday.

In a news conference, Arzu said the closeness of the contest, with less than a 3 percent margin of victory and a low voter turnout of 37 percent, does not worry him. “We won the capital, we won all the major cities,” he said. “We convinced 680,000 Guatemalans to believe in us and through our hard work we will convince the rest.”

The red-haired, freckled 49-year-old, conservative former Guatemala City mayor, takes office Sunday. He expects to have his Cabinet named by Thursday or Friday, he said.

He pledged to finish peace negotiations to end this country’s 35-year civil war in the first months of his term. He said he would maintain the powerful Estado Mayor Presidencial, known for its intelligence operations and suspected of torture and spying, but turn it into a sort of Secret Service responsible for guarding the president.

He has promised an economic revitalization of this country whose poverty has been exacerbated by war, two generations of dictators and government corruption.

“From today, we put the clock at zero,” he said. “We want to look to the future.”

But while Arzu has the support of congress, he will have to win over the rural areas, where 18 of 22 departments voted for his opponent, populist Alfonso Portillo.


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