Former Guatemalan president Alvaro Colom, who governed from 2008 to 2012 and supported a United Nations anti-corruption mission that later investigated him, died on Monday, politicians from his party have announced. He was 71.
Orlando Blanco, leader of the centre-left National Unity of Hope Party in Congress, said: “I deeply lament the death of ex-president Colom, a man of profound democratic convictions and great social sensibility.”
Current President Alejandro Giammattei expressed his condolences to Mr Colom’s family and friends via Twitter. No cause of death was given.
Mr Colom won office in a run-off election in 2007, defeating retired General Otto Perez Molina. It was his third attempt at the presidency.
An industrial engineer, Mr Colom was Guatemala’s first leftist president in more than 50 years when he took office in January 2008, but said he wanted Guatemala to chart its own path rather than falling in with established leftist leaders like Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez at the time.
He found success in textiles and Guatemala’s entry into large-scale production through assembly plants known in Spanish as maquiladoras.
He entered office promising to reduce poverty after having worked with civil war refugees in isolated highlands.
The war, which ran from 1960 to 1996, displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
He was an ordained Mayan minister and said he would seek guidance from the Mayan Elders National Council, a group of spiritual leaders.
Just weeks before the end of his term, he took credit for hiring some 90,000 additional teachers and bringing more than a million children back into the country’s schools. He said his administration had built more schools and health centres.
He also applauded Guatemala’s efforts to seize drug shipments moving through the country and arrest drug traffickers.
Mr Colom also supported the UN International Commission Against Impunity In Guatemala, better known by its Spanish acronym CICIG. It had started work the year before he took office.
But in 2018, he was arrested, along with almost his entire former cabinet, in relation to a corruption investigation involving a bus concession.
The case centred on a public bus company known as Transurbano. The government auctioned off 25-year concessions for Guatemala City bus routes, and the private companies that won the contracts were later exempted from taxes. The CICIG worked on the case with Guatemalan prosecutors.
Mr Colom denied any wrongdoing and the case had not gone to trial.
In 2021, the US State Department included him in a report to Congress on corrupt actors in the region for the bus scandal.
Perez Molina, who became president after Mr Colom, was eventually forced out of office by another CICIG investigation and jailed for corruption in December.
Mr Colom was formerly married to politician Sandra Torres, who planned to run for the presidency in Guatemala’s national elections on June 25.
Late on Monday, she wrote on Twitter: “May the noble man who always held Guatemala in his heart rest in peace.”