GUATEMALA CITY – Alvaro Colom, an engineer by trade, took the oath as president of Guatemala Jan. 14 and he thanked God and his countrymen for the “political miracle” that allowed the country to elect a social democratic leader after 50 years of rightist governments.
The change, he declared, will allow him in his four-year term to pursue an administration of “economic responsibility” and help lead to the “reduction of poverty.” “Justice is the soul of a people,” he stated in his inaugural address.
In a voice choked with emotion as he gave his address, Colom thanked God “for allowing Guatemala to arrive at a new phase of change and transformation.”
“Our fragile political system permitted a miracle on Nov. 4, 2007. Despite everything, we won,” said Colom emotionally, repeating his thanks to God and the Guatemalan people.
Between bouts of applause, the new president said that “now it’s Guatemala’s turn, for the first time in 50 years, to have a change toward a social democratic government,with a social focus.”
He emphasized the “maturity and professionalism” of the members of the outgoing conservative government in effecting “a transition, and permitting that to begin today in an orderly and civilized manner.”
“Thank-you, President [Oscar] Berger. Absolutely, as you said, we’re not of the same party, but we’re both Guatemalans,” Colom noted, alluding to the remarks made by his predecessor minutes earlier in his last speech as president.
Colom, a 57-year-old industrial engineer, the leader and founder of the National Unity of Hope (UNE) social democratic party, becomes the seventh civilian president to come to power in this Central American country via popular election since 1986. His term is set to run from 2008-2012.
Eduardo Meyer, the president of the country’s unicameral Congress and a member of Colom’s party, was the one to place the presidential sash on the new leader in a solemn ceremony held at the Miguel Angel Asturias National Theater in the capital.
Accompanied by his wife, Sandra Torres, Colom donned the blue and white presidential sash to the background tones of a pre-Colombian “son” interpreted by Indian musicians with the ancestral Maya instruments known as the “tum” and the “chirimilla.”
The inauguration was attended by the presidents of Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Taiwan, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica and Panama, as well as by Spain’s Crown Prince Felipe.
Also present at the ceremony were the members of the Maya Elders Council, made up of spiritual leaders from the country’s different indigenous tribes.
Also sworn in was Colom’s vice president, Rafael Espada, 65. After the two leaders took the oath of office, the 158 legislators elected in the national vote last Sept. 9 were confirmed in office.
Colom succeeded the conservative Berger as president after winning the election runoff on Nov. 4, in which he defeated retired Gen. Otto Perez Molina of the rightist Patriot Party.
After the ceremony, the newly installed president invited some 30,000 people to a street celebration in the Plaza de la Constitution.
He also offered a reception to all the international leaders and dignitaries who came to Guatemala for his investiture.
In a short speech before handing over the presidency, outgoing president Berger said that change in power consolidates democracy in this Central American country.
“This event – the change of power – is not to celebrate Oscar Berger or Alvaro Colom, but to celebrate the fact that the representative democracy of our country is becoming …consolidated,” said Berger in his brief address.
The outgoing president said that he was handing over a country and a government “in more solid and ordered condition” than had prevailed when he took power and that it would be “history and the Guatemalans who have to evaluate the results of my administration.”
“The task is immense, but we’re confident that we’ve advanced in the correct direction of contributing to a more prosperous and more inclusive Guatemala,” he emphasized.
Berger said that he wished his successor “the best of successes in his administration,” adding that although they belong to different parties, “the common interests for a more prosperous, more inclusive, more secure and more democratic Guatemala transcend any difference.”
“I’m sure that in four years, Colom can affirm that he hands over a better country than the one he received,” Berger said, thanking the Guatemalan people for the confidence they placed in him to lead the country for the past four years.