Sunday 25 August 2019

Guatemala's president-elect wants to rewrite migration deal with US

Switch: Alejandro Giammattei wants to see changes to agreement. Photo: James Rodriguez/Bloomberg
Switch: Alejandro Giammattei wants to see changes to agreement. Photo: James Rodriguez/Bloomberg

Sofia Menchu

The winner of Guatemala's presidential election, Alejandro Giammattei, said he hoped he could make changes to a controversial migration deal the Central American country signed with the Trump administration last month.

Speaking to Reuters shortly before being declared victor, the conservative Mr Giammattei said he wanted to see what could be done to improve the deal that outgoing president Jimmy Morales agreed to stem US-bound migration from Central America.

Mr Giammattei will not take office until January, by which time Guatemala may be under severe pressure from the deal that effectively turns the country into a buffer zone, by forcing migrants to seek refuge there rather than in the United States.

"I hope that during this transition the doors will open to get more information so we can see what, from a diplomatic point of view, we can do to remove from this deal the things that are not right for us, or how we can come to an agreement with the US," Mr Giammattei (63) said in the interview.

Threatened with economic sanctions if he said no, Mr Morales reached an accord in late July to make Guatemala a so-called safe third country for migrants, despite the endemic poverty and violence plaguing the Central American nation.

"It's not right for the country," Mr Giammattei said of the deal. "If we don't have the capacity to look after our own people, imagine what it will be like for foreigners."

The agreement is also highly unpopular in Guatemala.

A poll published this week by Guatemalan newspaper 'Prensa Libre' showed more than eight out of 10 respondents rejected the idea of the country accepting foreign migrants seeking asylum.

Mr Giammattei noted that since a US judge had already suspended a separate safe third country accord, there was a chance that the deal with Guatemala could change.

"We'll have to see what happens in the United States with the federal judge's decision. The most likely outcome is that the United States will have to modify... the deal," he said, also noting Guatemala's Congress would need to be consulted.

In July, a US federal judge in California blocked a Trump administration rule that would bar asylum applications at the US-Mexico border.

Three million Guatemalans live and work in the United States, which is also the country's main trading partner.

Irish Independent

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