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Guatemala to get first leftist president in more than 50 years

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Posted: January 14, 2008 6:45 p.m.
Updated: January 29, 2008 5:00 a.m.
    GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemala on Monday swears in Alvaro Colom, its first leftist president in more than 50 years.
    Colom and his vice president, former Houston Methodist Hospital heart surgeon Rafael Espada, were taking office an afternoon inaugural ceremony that was delayed to accommodate arriving dignitaries. Those attending included at least 10 world leaders, including Mexican President Felipe Calderon, Colombia President Alvaro Uribe and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.
    Speaking to reporters before the ceremony, Chavez said Venezuela was ready to help Colom’s new government any way it could, including with oil at preferential terms, investments and other aid.
    ‘‘The doors are open,’’ he said.
    But while Colom will be Guatemala’s first leftist leader since Jacobo Arbenz was thrown out of office in 1954 by a CIA-orchestrated coup, Colom said he doesn’t want to be identified with other leftist governments in Latin America, including that of Chavez.
    Arguing that each country must ‘‘find its own path,’’ he said he won’t accept Venezuela’s offer of oil for preferential terms until he has consulted with his country’s business elite.
    ‘‘I ask God to give me the wisdom and humility to win over those who didn’t vote for me. And God willing, in a few months Guatemala will begin to see a reduction in poverty and crime,’’ he said in an interview with Radio Sonora on Monday.
    Colom, an industrial engineer who led Guatemala’s efforts to coax thousands of war refugees back home, has promised to build schools and medical centers, create jobs, and bring security to a country where gangs behead victims and drug traffickers control much of the police forces.
    Half of Guatemala’s 13 million people live on less than $1 a day.
    Colom plans to recruit business leaders by having them participate in a so-called ‘‘Social Pact’’ to improve the economy and alleviate poverty.
    The ceremony provides Chavez the first opportunity to meet face to face with Uribe since the two leaders were at odds over Colombia’s hostage crisis.

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