Guatemala’s new president will face a mobilized society of young people demanding change

Today, Jan. 14, Guatemala will inaugurate President Jimmy Morales, a former comedian and political outsider who easily defeated his more established opponent, former First Lady Sandra Torres, in last October’s run-off.

Morales will take office in the wake of Guatemala’s worst political crisis in decades, resulting in the resignations of President Otto Pérez Molina, Vice President Roxana Baldetti, and multiple cabinet members—all of whom are now prosecuted for their role in a massive corruption ring.

Although Morales won with nearly 70% of the popular vote, his administration is expected to face the continued scrutiny of Guatemala’s recently mobilized civil society, which forced the ouster of his predecessor with the rallying cry “Renuncia Ya,” or Resign Now.

As Renuncia Ya movement rallied the country against corruption, it also played an important part in drawing many cynical or apolitical Guatemalans into the public sphere. The movement galvanized the population to start demanding real change and encouraged the post-war generation to get involved in the political system—many for the first time.

This new mobilization is exemplified by people like Ana Quezada, a 30-year-old graphic designer from Guatemala City. “Before, I felt apathetic about the system and about politics, but now it is different,” said Quezada. “Now I feel that for the first time in my life, I need to do something, to fight for a change in my country.”

Since the days of military dictatorship, daily life in Guatemala has been governed by fear and violence, first from the internal armed conflict that ravaged the country from 1960 to 1996, and now due to instability, crime, and gang activity. That result was a population that was weary, wary, and often cowed into apathy.

While the Renuncia Ya movement only managed to change the country’s political leadership without uprooting the system, many feel that the success of 2015 protests has helped to awaken the country and started to reverse some of the psycho-social injury inflicted by decades of war.

“At first our parents, who grew up during the war, were contributing to the fear. They were telling us that [the government and military] were going to kill us, or going to disappear us—this is a military government. The fear was a strong. But we broke this fear that has crippled us,” says Donald Urizar, one of the protest movement’s organizers. “Right now we have the opportunity to renew our country.”

Now, a new hashtag movement is trending in the social media: #EstoApenasEmpieza (This is Just Beginning). “Right now comes the real work,” said Urizar. “This was never just about Otto Pérez Molina, but rather about changing the system into something that benefits all Guatemalans.”