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Anti-corruption candidate wins Guatemala's presidency in a landslide vote

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

In Guatemala, a reformist candidate beat all the odds and is now the country's president-elect.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Bernardo Arevalo has been an anti-corruption crusader in a notoriously corrupt country, one where people like him have been persecuted by ruling elites. Remarkably, though, it appears that he won in a landslide with a 20-percentage-point lead.

MARTÍNEZ: NPR's Eyder Peralta is on the line with us from Guatemala City. Eyder, let's start with the streets. What's been the reaction to the results?

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: Well, look, right now it's very quiet because it's early morning here. But just a few hours ago, it was one big party. Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets. And they waited for their president-elect to emerge from a hotel balcony. And I just want to play some tape of what it was like there.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS BLARING)

PERALTA: There's fireworks in the sky. There's motorcyclists. People have the Guatemalan flag. This is a moment for Guatemalan people. I think a lot of people here feel that they have defeated a government that had been taking power for the last few years. And they did it.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORNS BLARING)

PERALTA: (Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: So she says that what she's feeling right now is that democracy has been defended.

(Speaking Spanish).

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: So at the end there, I asked her, do you think tomorrow will be different? And she said, we have faith, and we voted for him on faith.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. So tell us about this outsider who won by a huge margin. I mean, who is he? What's his background? What does it mean for the country?

PERALTA: Bernardo Arevalo is a congressman but of a tiny party that no one really knew until a couple of months ago. He's an academic, a sociologist. And he's the son of Guatemala's first democratically elected president. He was also the unlikeliest candidate to win this election. And that's because, one, he had no money. He was the only candidate who didn't have billboards here.

And two, he was running an anti-corruption campaign in a country where the ruling class had been going on a hunt for people fighting corruption. Over the past few years, independent prosecutors, judges, journalists, civil rights defenders have been fleeing Guatemala because the government has been using public institutions to persecute them. And every analyst I've spoken to says Bernardo Arevalo has the chance to be a circuit breaker. He has the chance to stop Guatemala's democratic backslide. And in his victory speech, that's exactly what he said.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BERNARDO AREVALO: (Speaking Spanish).

PERALTA: He said the votes were counted and what the people say is enough, enough with this corruption.

MARTÍNEZ: The thing is, though, there's always a lot of hope for change in some Latin American countries. What are the chances, though, of real change coming to Guatemala?

PERALTA: Well, I mean, President-elect Bernardo Arevalo would have a tiny minority in Congress, so he's going to have to make deals to govern. And he also has a Justice Department that he won't really control, and then in the past few days has been threatening to bring charges against him. It's worth noting that those threats have been widely viewed as being politically motivated. And then there's his rival. Sandra Torres has not yet conceded, but the president of the country has congratulated Arevalo and said he's ready to help him with the transition.

MARTÍNEZ: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta in Guatemala City. Thanks for keeping track of this.

PERALTA: Thank you, A. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez
A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.