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Guatemalan president targets poverty

Tue., Jan. 15, 2008

GUATEMALA CITY – Alvaro Colom was sworn in on Monday as Guatemala’s first leftist president in more than 50 years, promising to fight poverty in a nation where half the people live on less than $1 a day.

Colom, who led Guatemala’s efforts to coax thousands of refugees back home after its civil war ended, took office in a ceremony attended by world leaders including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombia’s Alvaro Uribe, who recently clashed over a hostage mission.

“Today is the beginning of privileges for the poor, the beginning of privileges for those without opportunities,” Colom, 56, said after receiving the presidential sash to traditional Mayan music.

Despite his ideology, Guatemala’s new leader said he doesn’t want to be identified with other leftist governments in Latin America, including that of Chavez. In recent years, left-of-center leaders have been elected in Brazil, Argentina, Bolivia, Ecuador, Uruguay and Venezuela.

Colom has said each country must “find its own path,” and that he won’t accept Venezuela’s offer of oil for preferential terms until he has consulted with his country’s business elite.

Days after his Nov. 4 election win, Colom said he supported the free trade agreement with the United States and that he would ask Washington for aid to fight drug trafficking.

“We are going to fight for the unity of the country, for the harmony with our indigenous people,” Colom said.


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