GUATEMALA CITY – Alejandro Giammattei has unsuccessfully sought the Guatemalan presidency on three occasions but he is convinced the fourth time will be the charm.
He also said he is seeking his nation’s highest office once again not out of a thirst for power but rather a desire to serve, pledging that if elected on June 16 he will build an “economic wall” of opportunities to halt undocumented migration.
“Physical walls don’t stop (people). Economic walls do. An economic wall of prosperity, of work,” Giammattei, candidate of the recently founded VAMOS party, said in an interview with EFE in Guatemala City, adding that people who have employment, housing, healthcare, education and public safety “don’t leave.”
In that regard, he said he has already proposed a Mexico-Guatemala binational plan for the development of the border region, an initiative that would have a direct impact on the provinces of Huehuetenango and San Marcos.
That plan would include creating “a regional binational development bank” to generate more opportunity, he said, adding that no matter how high a wall is people will find a way to climb over or crawl under it.
Giammattei, who maintains that poverty is the No. 1 cause of illegal migration, said sustained annual economic growth of 6 percent over a period of 12 years will be needed to do away with inequality in Guatemala – one of the world’s most unequal nations – and achieve the goal of an 80 percent reduction in extreme poverty.
Those objectives can be met through greater “legal certainty and respect for private property” that in turn will ensure increased foreign investment, according to the candidate.
He also called for an economic development model that leverages the geographical location of Guatemala, which has both Pacific and Caribbean coasts and borders the world’s “second-biggest (economic) bloc,” an area made up of the United States, Canada and Mexico.
Referring to foreign affairs, the candidate said he would continue the outgoing administration’s support for Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as that nation’s legitimate president.
Guaido, who proclaimed himself interim president in January, has the backing of the United States, most of the major European nations and dozens of other countries. Venezuela’s leftist head of state, Nicolas Maduro, is supported by China, Russia, India and dozens of other nations.
Giammattei, a former prison system director who is currently running second in the polls, was held in preventive detention for 10 months in 2010 after being accused in connection with a 2006 massacre at a penitentiary near Guatemala City that had long been controlled by a group of inmates.
He says, however, that that charge was politically motivated and that it continues to dog him because of the existence of groups interested in keeping the political system where it is, “between rot and filth.”
Seven inmates died on Sept. 25, 2006, when police moved in to re-establish authority at the Pavon Prison. Giammattei, then the head of the prison service, was found to have properly performed his duties and was acquitted.
Referring to the current state of Guatemala’s corrections system, he says it is plagued by excessive use of preventive detention and says he supports alternate measures such as house arrest and the tracking of defendants with electronic devices.
He also called for separating inmates inside penitentiaries in accordance with the level of danger they pose, adding that the streets will be crime-ridden as long as the prisons remain unsafe and calling on all sectors to break that “accursed link.”
To tackle high levels of violent crime in Guatemala, he has proposed that crimes carried out against a public service, such as attacks on buses by violent street gangs running extortion rackets, be treated as “terrorist” offenses.
Referring to the scourge of corruption, Giammattei says that Guatemala needs “international support” with investigations, criminal prosecutions and its court system but that he will request the bilateral backing of allies such as Israel and the US.
“We don’t have to resort to a multi-lateral organization,” Giammattei said, alluding to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an organization he said in recent days he would sue for allegedly running a smear campaign against him.
The CICIG, which denies the accusation, is a United Nations-sponsored body that had investigated crime and corruption in the Central American country for a dozen years before its mission was unilaterally terminated in January by conservative President Jimmy Morales, who had become a target of its probes.