New Guatemalan president seeks U.S. help in drug fight

Casa Presidencial photo President Chinchilla greets Otto Pérez Molina

The new Guatemalan president asked the United States to help him and the country fight against drug trafficking on Saturday. He was sworn into office that day.

During his inaugural speech as president, Otto Pérez Molina, 61, vowed to reduce violence and malnutrition in the country within his first six months as president. In 2011, Guatemala had a rate of 75 homicides per 100,000 habitants according to a study done by the Mexican Consejo Ciudadano para la Seguridad Pública y la Justicia Penal A.C., 2012.

His platform was based on safety for the people of the country. He won the November presidential election with 55 percent of the votes.

The retired military general also asked for national reconciliation of the country, where he wants all to be one and fight as one against organized crime in Guatemala.

Both Mexican President Felipe Calderón, and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos have promised to help Pérez fight drug trafficking. They were also at the swearing in. Other presidents who attended were Mauricio Funes, El Salvador, Porfirio Lobo of Honduras, Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, and Costa Rica’s Laura Chinchilla Miranda.

Pérez, during the armed conflict from 1960-1996, was a military boss for the El Quiché department, where there were violations against human rights. He was known for his strong hand against those he deemed enemies of the state.

Drug cartels from neighboring Mexico have occupied large sections of Guatemala, bringing with them a surge of violence that has pushed the country’s murder rate to one of the highest in the world.

Pérez told the crowd Saturday change has begun and said that he and his administration “are committed to peace and integral security.” He succeeds Alvaro Colom and inherits a government in tough financial straits.

Pérez is the first military officer to lead the Central American country since the military turned the government over to civilians 25 years ago.

Pérez was reminded of the challenges ahead when a prospective member of his administration, a congressman, Valentin Leal Caal, was gunned down outside the campaign headquarters of the ruling party Friday. Police have not announced an arrest in the murder.

Ms. Chinchilla met with Pérez for about 20 minutes before the inauguration Saturday. With her was her foreign minister, Enrique Castillo, and Mario Zamora, the security minister.

Casa Presidencial said they discussed climate change, criminality and the exchange of information on criminals and gangs operating in Central America.

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