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Next Guatemala leader seeks better U.S. migrant deal
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Next Guatemala leader seeks better U.S. migrant deal, hindered by split Congress

GUATEMALA CITY, August 13 ------ Guatemala’s incoming president Alejandro Giammattei has vowed to seek better terms for his country from an unpopular migration deal agreed with Washington last month, but any room for maneuver is seen as likely to be hampered by weakness in the national Congress. Preliminary results from Sunday’s election gave Giammattei, a conservative, a runoff victory with 58% of the vote, well ahead of his center-left opponent, former first lady Sandra Torres, on 42%.

Still, his Vamos Party won just 8% of the vote in June’s congressional election, giving it around a tenth of the seats in a legislature bristling with nearly 20 parties. The biggest bloc of seats will be controlled by his rival Torres. Speaking a few hours before he was declared the winner, the 63-year-old Giammattei said he wanted to see what could be done to improve the accord that outgoing President Jimmy Morales made under pressure from his American counterpart Donald Trump that seeks to stem U.S.-bound migration from Central America.

Giammattei will not take office until January, by which time Guatemala may be under severe pressure from the deal, which effectively turns the country into a buffer zone by forcing migrants to apply for asylum there rather than in the United States. “I hope that during this transition the doors will open to get more information so we can see what, from a diplomatic point of view, we can do to remove from this deal the things that are not right for us, or how we can come to an agreement with the United States,” Giammattei told Reuters in an interview.

Threatened with economic sanctions if he said no, Morales agreed in late July to make Guatemala a so-called safe third country for migrants, despite endemic poverty and violence that have led to a constant flow of people northward. “It’s not right for the country,” Giammattei said of the deal. “If we don’t have the capacity to look after our own people, imagine what it will be like for foreigners.” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo congratulated Giammattei on Monday, saying in a statement the United States looked forward to working with Guatemala on “the underlying conditions driving irregular migration,” without giving more details.

Asked about Giammattei’s comments, U.S. border patrol chief Carla Provost said in an interview with Fox News: “It certainly is a concern. We need both Mexico and Guatemala to continue doing what they’re doing,” referring to Mexico’s campaign to block migrants from crossing its border with the United States.