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Dec 29, 2003

New President elected in Guatemala

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He’s a successful Businessman and former Mayor of Guatemala City. And today Oscar Berger has one more achievement to add to his resume: President of Guatemala. Berger won the run-off in Guatemala’s presidential election on Sunday by capturing fifty-four percent of the vote. His rival, Alvaro Colom, was left with the remaining forty-six percent of the over two million ballots. For Guatemalans, the focus now shifts to January fourteenth when President Alfonso Portillo will hand over the reins of government to the man he defeated in 1999. But as Berger takes office as Guatemala’s next president, observers in Belize will no doubt be keeping a keen eye on his foreign policy agenda, particularly as it relates to the stalled O.A.S. facilitation process. Guatemalan Ambassador to Belize Antonio Castellanos today told News 5 that while pressing domestic issues will be at the top of the new president’s agenda, the Guatemalan claim to Belize is not a forgotten subject. This, Castellanos says, is because the Vice President-elect, Eduardo Stein, was the man who in 1999, initiated the process that eventually led to the O.A.S. facilitation.

Antonio Castellanos, Guatemalan Ambassador to Belize

“Both are men of experience. Mr. Berger has been Mayor of the City of Guatemala, the capital city of Guatemala two times: two periods of four years. And Mr. Stein is doctor in political sciences and also he served as foreign minister during four years of president Arzu’s tenure.”

“I think it’s the wish of all Guatemalans to solve this ancient problem. What I would say is that President-elect Berger would try along with Vice President Stein who is very knowledgeable of the whole process and the situation to try to find a honourable and amicable solution that would be good for both countries. It’s a matter of trying and negotiating.”

“The facilitation process is not dead for us as such, but it will need to be restructured in terms of the proposals. The proposals, as they are, were rejected by the Guatemalan government because they were not suitable to be submitted to a referendum. Now if there is a change in those proposals they could be restarted and put back again into that line. We are willing to find a solution, we are willing to talk, and I think this new government will start by calling bi-lateral talks in order to look for ways of finding, restarting, not from scratch or from the bottom, but to continue negotiation. It’s just that at this stage both governments decided that we keep things as they were because there was no use going to the electoral process. And its such a long process, from first elections in November to second round now in December that there was nothing to do until January fourteenth when the president takes office and then he has to settle down and start working, and then is when things are going to start to show regarding to our problem, to our differences.”

While the new president will need some time to settle into his office in Guatemala City, closer to home Castellanos says Belizeans, especially those living along the border, should expect to see an improvement in relations as entrepreneurs on both sides realise that there is more to gain from being friends than foes.

Antonio Castellanos

“I think that this new government will try to increase the exchange in all different areas like trade and cultural and economic links so that both countries get to know each better and the relationship grows as it should be. I think we are going to have less and less problems at the adjacency zone because we are enforcing more and more. This government might take even more seriously the control of those buffer zones we have in place.”

“In order to have a better economic development of the area of Peten, the adjacent departments to Belize, you need to have a solution. We need to have a better exchange of goods through confidence, through better knowledge of each other, and through more mutual investments and joint ventures together. That’s what has always been my position, and I think the government will take that as part of their guidelines towards the relationship.”

International election observers in Guatemala say the turn out in Sunday’s run-off election was lower than expected. Guatemala’s Election Commission today reported that of the five million registered voters, only two point three million people, or forty-six point seven-eight percent of the electors voted in the election.

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