Guatemalans on Sunday were voting for a new president who will face a major challenge after the country signed an unpopular deal with Washington to act as a buffer against illegal immigration under pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump.
Threatened with economic sanctions if it said no, the administration of outgoing President Jimmy 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.
Both candidates to replace Morales, conservative Alejandro Giammattei, the slight favorite, and the center-left former first lady Sandra Torres, have criticized the deal. But it is unclear that either will be able to do much to stop it.
“I think it’s the most ridiculous thing this president could have done, because if Guatemala is mired in poverty, how is it going to take in migrants if we don’t have anything to eat ourselves?” said Mercedes Escoto, 65, a retired teacher and Giammattei supporter voting in Guatemala City.
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.
Both candidates argue lawmakers should be consulted on the deal, which Giammattei has called “bad news”, saying Guatemala is not ready to cope with a potential jump in asylum-seekers.
The accord would require Hondurans and Salvadorans to apply for asylum in Guatemala rather than the United States. It also foresees granting U.S. visas to some Guatemalan workers.
Torres, too, has attacked the deal, and her campaign says Guatemala should be pushing for better bilateral trading terms with the United States in return for considering it.
A CID-Gallup opinion poll of 1,216 voters conducted between July 29 and Aug. 5 gave Giammattei the advantage going into the run-off vote, with 39.5% support, versus 32.4% for Torres.
Whoever takes office in January will inherit a country with a 60% poverty rate, widespread crime and unemployment, which have led hundreds of thousands of Guatemalans to migrate north.
By Reuters News Agency for THE TELEGRAPH
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