Who is Alejandro Giammattei? Guatemala Elects Right-wing President Who Vowed to Build a 'Wall' to Stop Migration to U.S.

Alejandro Giammattei, the conservative Guatemalan politician who once vowed to build a "wall" to prevent migration to the United States if elected president, swept to victory in the Central American country's federal election on Sunday, vowing to bring change to the nation—as well as to its relationship with the U.S.

After losing three previous bids for the presidency, Giammattei managed to defeat his centre-left rival, former first lady Sandra Torres, with a landslide win of more than 58 percent of the vote, according to preliminary results.

In the lead-up to his election victory, Giammattei suggested in an interview with Reuters on Sunday that one of his first priorities as president would be to try to make changes to the controversial "safe third country" deal struck between his predecessor, outgoing President Jimmy Morales, and President Donald Trump.

It is unclear what toll the deal, which requires migrants passing through Guatemala to seek asylum there rather than in the United States, will have had on the country by the time Giammattei officially takes office in January.

However, the president-elect said that during the "transition" time between now and then, he hopes "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.

Before his election, Giammattei had been outspoken in his criticism of the "safe third country" deal, branding it "bad news."

His predecessor had agreed to the measure, despite his country being ill-placed to accommodate asylum seekers given its current economic instability, after facing threats from the Trump administration of economic sanctions if he refused.

Noting that in July a U.S. federal judge in California had already blocked a Trump administration rule barring asylum applications at the U.S.-Mexico border, Giammattei said he was hopeful that Guatemala's own agreement with the U.S. might be set to change.

"We'll have to see what happens in the United States with the federal judge's decision. The most likely outcome is that the United States will have to modify…the deal," he said, adding that Guatemala's Congress would also need to be consulted.

Still, Giammattei said that even if the deal stands, it is unlikely that asylum seekers will be willing to adhere to the rule.

"I don't think there are a lot of people from El Salvador and Honduras who want to seek asylum in Guatemala, especially if they are fleeing poverty," he said. "They are looking for asylum in the United States."

The conservative leader has previously vowed to build a "wall of investment" along Guatemala's border with Mexico to encourage citizens to stay home and invest in the economic development of their own country, rather than seeking to contribute to that of the U.S.

Among his more controversial proposals, Giammattei has also vowed to bring back the death penalty.

If he does, he will follow in the footsteps of Trump, whose administration has seen capital punishment resumed for the first time in nearly two decades after Attorney General William Barr directed the Federal Bureau of Prisons to schedule executions for five inmates on federal death row.

Alejandro Giammattei
Guatemalan presidential candidate for the Vamos (Let's Go) party Alejandro Giammattei waves to supporters after delivering a speech in Guatemala City on August 11, 2019. - Giammattei was declared victorious in Sunday's run-off election in Guatemala, after holding a major lead with the results from more than 90 percent of polling stations counted. ORLANDO ESTRADA/AFP/Getty