Otto Pérez Molina was inaugurated on Saturday as Guatemala’s new president, making him the first military official to take office since the end of the military government 25 years ago. As the murder rate, violence and infiltration of organized crime and narco-trafficking groups have increased, Guatemalan voters have offered their support to Pérez Molina’s ‘iron fist’ approach to security and crime. In his inaugural speech, Pérez Molina promised to ‘show results’ in the first six months of his presidency and ‘cut the murder rate by half by the end of his term.’ Speaking directly to military officials yesterday, President Pérez Molina called on the army to ‘neutralize illegal armed groups by means of military power’ and demanded loyalty, participation and enthusiasm from all military officials.
The new president is asking the United States and Mexico to support Guatemala in its efforts to crack down on drug-related violence, expressing his intentions to push for the lifting of a military aid ban from the U.S. Lifting the ban would lead to greater emphasis on military training in a country suffering from continued military impunity from the internal conflict and a dire need for police and judicial reform–not more military support. However, regaining aid from the U.S. would require Guatemala to meet a set of 6 conditions, including releasing all military documents from the armed conflict–something Perez Molina is unlikely to do. The move to lift the ban is a glimpse of what is to come in the new president’s term, marking a shift back to the militarization strategy of the armed conflict and raising serious concerns over the potential for human rights abuses, given the accusations of war crimes held against President Pérez Molina and the well-known history of human rights violations by the Guatemalan military.
Check out video coverage of the inauguration from Al-Jazeera below: