Álvaro Arzú


Álvaro Enrique Arzú Yrigoyen

Álvaro Enrique Arzú Yrigoyen (born March 14, 1946) was the 32nd President of Guatemala from January 14, 1996 until January 14, 2000. He has been elected Mayor of Guatemala City on five occasions: in 1982, but was prevented from assuming office because of a coup d'état; in 1986, this time assuming and serving his mandate; again in January 2004; and he was re-elected for a third effective term in September 2007 with 55 percent of the popular vote.[1] Arzú was re-elected in September 2011 for a third consecutive term as mayor of the capital, which began in January 2012.


Born in Guatemala City, Arzú studied Social and Legal Sciences at Rafael Landívar University. In 1978 he became the Director of the Guatemalan Tourist Institute (INGUAT) until in 1981 he was elected Mayor of Guatemala City for the Guatemalan Christian Democracy (DCG) party. When in March 1982 GeneralEfraín Ríos Montt took power in a coup he annulled the election results. The government offered him another job working for the municipality (of Guatemala City), but he refused it. In 1986 he became Mayor under the umbrella of the Civic Committee Plan for National Advancement in a national elections that saw the DGC sweep to power, with Vinicio Cerezo becoming President.

In 1989 the Civic Committee Plan became a formal political party called the National Advancement Party (PAN), and in 1990 he was their presidential candidate, coming in fourth place with 17.3 percent of the vote. The winner, Jorge Serrano, made Arzú his foreign minister, but he then resigned on September 21 in protest against Serrano's decision to normalize relations with Belize, over most of whose territory Guatemala has long standing claims. On October 13 he became PAN's General Secretary, a position from which he resigned on June 25, 1995 in order to concentrate on being PAN's candidate in the November presidential elections.

After the presidential term, Arzu has been mayor for Guatemala's Capital City for three four-year terms in a row.


He won the first round in November, and then narrowly beat Alfonso Portillo of the Guatemalan Republican Front (FRG, Frente Republicano Guatemalteco) in the second round in January 1996, gaining 51.2 percent of the vote. PAN gained a slim majority with 43 out of 80 of the National Congress seats. The main achievement of his presidency was to sign an agreement with the guerrilla group the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity, that ended Guatemala's 36-year-long Civil War. His promise to do this had been a pivotal part of his electoral campaign. There had been six years of negotiations since the OsloAgreement of March 1990, and Arzú gave them a vital new impulse when he personally met the URNG in Mexico on February 26, 1996. A ceasefire followed on March 20. Various peace agreements were signed as the year progressed until in December when a number of agreements were signed in Oslo. On December 12 an accord legalizing the URNG was signed in Madrid. On December 18 Congress passed a law giving a partial amnesty to the combatants, before the final accord for a firm and lasting peace was signed on December 29.

On April 26, 1998 the assistant Archbishop to Guatemala City Juan José Gerardi was murdered, two days after publishing a report on the suspected involvement of the military in past atrocities. Arzú declared three days of national mourning, and said it was a common and not a political crime. With suspicions that the President's own guard had been behind the murder, and amidst mounting national and international pressure, he formed a commission with his most trusted collaborators, and members of the church, to fully investigate the crime.

On October 16 Congress passed constitutional reform describing Guatemala as a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-lingual society. This was part of the peace agreements signed between the Government and the URNG. Yet in a referendum the following May the population (or at least the 18.6% that voted) rejected this proposition, which represented a blow for the government.

Under Arzú's Presidency executions resumed in Guatemala for the first time since 1983, as three people were put to death (two by firing squad in 1996 and one by lethal injection in 1998, with all these executions being broadcast by the national TV).