How Guatemala's President-elect Should Begin His Presidency

Learn more about Matthew Rooney.
Matthew Rooney
Senior Advisor
George W. Bush Institute

To be successful, Alejandro Giammattei will need to set clear and realistic priorities for Guatemala, and strengthen his credibility with early wins.

Alejandro Giammattei, Guatemala’s president-elect, should be congratulated for offering leadership to a country facing a daunting array of challenges. To be successful, he will need to set clear and realistic priorities, and strengthen his credibility with early wins. 

The task ahead will not be easy as Guatemala has longstanding issues: social inequality, inadequate industrial competitiveness, organized crime, and a fraught relationship with the United States. The country’s economy has also failed to produce job opportunities for young Guatemalans. 

The George W. Bush Institute’s Global Competitiveness Scorecard indicates the country’s overall competitiveness in Central America has strengthened since 2007, although its score on legal system and property rights has declined markedly. In these areas, Guatemala lags behind its regional neighbors by significant margins, putting the country at a disadvantage in attracting domestic and international investment— hindering job creation and economic growth. 

The Bush Institute’s Central America Prosperity Project (CAPP) working group looked behind these numbers and agreed that the overarching issues driving the weaknesses were informality and corruption. That is, workers and businesses operating on the margins of the economy, without paying taxes or complying with laws and regulations; and penetration of the society by organized crime. 

To begin the process of turning things around, Giammattei should promote the use of mobile technologies for access to government and financial services in the context of a broader regional digital strategy. Such advances would go a long way in addressing informality and corruption. The payments would be less subject to fraud and compliance would be easier and less costly. 

Like its Central American neighbors, Guatemala enjoys a lively and diverse civil society, an enterprising and creative business community, and ready access to global markets. Giammattei has an opportunity to bring these assets together into a winning development strategy that will benefit the people of Guatemala – as well as the United States.