Image: Alvaro Colom
Oswaldo Rivas  /  Reuters
Alvaro Colom of the National Unity for Hope party and his wife, Sandra de Colom, make dove shapes, the party's symbol, with their hands during a celebration of his victory Sunday.
updated 11/5/2007 7:04:13 PM ET 2007-11-06T00:04:13

Guatemala’s new president-elect, Alvaro Colom, urged the country on Monday to unite behind his plans to reduce poverty and said he would consult with Mayan spiritual leaders for guidance.

“We will work to attain a national brotherhood with our 23 indigenous groups,” Colom, of the center-left National Unity of Hope Party, told a news conference a day after winning a hotly contested runoff. “This will be a great opportunity to unify the country.”

Colom, who worked with civil war refugees in isolated highlands and is an ordained Mayan minister, said he would seek guidance from the Mayan Elders National Council, a group of spiritual leaders, as he prepares to lead this heavily indigenous country.

With all the ballots counted from Sunday’s election, Colom won with nearly 53 percent, compared with 47 percent for retired Gen. Otto Perez Molina of the conservative Patriotic Party.

Perez, who ran on a tough anti-crime platform, pledged to work with the new administration to fight crime in Central America’s most violent country, where youth gangs are rampant and as few as 2 percent of more than 5,000 homicides a year are solved.

Colom, 56, said he would fight crime by creating jobs and overhauling the courts. He plans to increase social spending to help the majority of Guatemala’s 13 million people who live on less than $2 a day.

“If we don’t make justice our priority we won’t get results when it come to security,” Colom said.

When he takes office in January, Colom will inherit a decaying justice system, widespread corruption and a culture of violence that is a legacy of the 1960-1996 civil war. Some 200,000 people died during the conflict, most of them Mayan Indians and most killed by the army, police and paramilitary forces.

Political violence made for a harrowing campaign, with more than 50 candidates, party activists and their family members killed. Last month, Perez’s secretary and a presidential security guard were gunned down.

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