Guatemala’s next president says recent migration deal with U.S. a non-starter

Guatemala president-elect Alejandro Giammattei says that his country isn’t able to hold up its side of an immigration agreement with the United States as it is currently written.

Giammattei told Mexico’s Televisa network Tuesday he’d analyze the agreement, which would require asylum seekers from other countries transiting Guatemala to seek asylum there first, including from Central American neighbours Honduras and El Salvador. The idea is to ease the number of asylum seekers arriving at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Outgoing President Jimmy Morales signed the agreement last month with U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration. Giammattei has been saying that Guatemala isn’t in a position to receive the asylum seekers.

He didn’t say what changes are needed.

The agreement designated Guatemala as a “safe third country,” even as thousands of Guatemala’s own citizens have also fled toward the U.S. border. At least one per cent of the country’s population of some 16 million have left in the past year alone.

U.S. pact sidestepped on the campaign trail

Giammattei won 58 per cent of the vote on Sunday, compared to 42 per cent from his rival to the left, Sandra Torres, though turnout was low.

Neither Giammattei nor Torres talked much about the agreement in their final pitches to voters in recent weeks, beyond saying the issue should have been left to the winner of the election rather than negotiated under Morales.

Refugee advocates and immigration law experts have disputed the idea that Guatemala is a safe third country, given its issues with poverty and deadly violence. While the country’s homicide rate has dramatically fallen over the past decade and no longer rivals the rates of El Salvador and Honduras, it was still at a significant 22 homicides per 100,000 residents in 2018, according the U.S. State Department-affiliated Overseas Security Advisory Council.

Before the signing of the deal, Guatemala’s constitutional court had ordered the government not to strike such a deal – a ruling the Morales administration ignored. Soon after the deal was announced, the country’s human rights prosecutor filed an appeal with the same court to nullify it.

In an interview with Agence France-Presse on Monday, Giammettei was quoted as saying of Trump: “If he respects me, I respect him. If he treats me well, I treat him well. If he treats me badly, I treat him badly.”

Giammettei will take office Jan. 14 for a four-year term. The 63-year-old, a doctor, succeeded in his fourth shot at the presidency.

He spent several months behind bars in 2008 when he was director of the country’s prison system, after some prisoners were killed in a raid on his watch. He was eventually acquitted of wrongdoing.