International

Guatemala to swear in conservative Giammattei as president

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala swears in Alejandro Giammattei, a conservative physician opposed to gay marriage and abortion, as its new president Tuesday while the country’s outgoing leader exits amid swirling corruption accusations.

The 63-year-old Giammattei won the presidency on his fourth attempt in August for Vamos, a party founded in 2017 by politicians, businessmen and military officers on promises of battling poverty and providing better opportunities.

Giammattei was scheduled to be sworn in before several Latin American leaders, among them Juan Orlando Hernández of Honduras, El Salvador President Nayib Bukele, Iván Duque of Colombia and Lenin Moreno of Ecuador. Washington was represented by Homeland Security acting Secretary Chad Wolf and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Giammattei met privately with Ross before the inauguration.

The U.S. Embassy announced via Twitter that the two countries would sign a memorandum of understanding Wednesday on $1 billion in investment in the private sector to stimulate job creation in Guatemala.

One of the early challenges facing Giammattei will be an Asylum Cooperation Agreement signed by his predecessor with the United States government. There was significant opposition to the deal inside Guatemala. The U.S. began sending Honduran and Salvadoran asylum seekers to Guatemala under the agreement in November and recently said it would expand it to Mexicans. A similar deal signed with Honduras could send Guatemalan asylum seekers there.

Giammattei inherits a country in which 59% of Guatemalans live below the poverty line, according to official figures, while nearly 1 million children below age 5 are estimated to live with chronic malnutrition.

He has proposed to build what he calls a “Mayan Train,” high-speed rail with a line for cargo and another for passengers. The name mirrors a planned train project for neighboring Mexico that will travel between coastal resorts, cities and Mayan ruins in that country’s southeast.

Giammattei will be working without a majority in Congress. His party captured 17 seats.

The surgeon suffers from multiple sclerosis, a disease of the nervous system, and uses crutches to walk. He has also worked as a business consultant in the private sector.

In 2006, Giammattei was the head of the country’s prison system when the interior ministry carried out a raid on the Pavon penal farm to regain control from the inmates. Thousands of police, soldiers and armed civilians raided the prison overnight and several inmates died in the operation.

Authorities, bureaucrats and private citizens were arrested, tried and imprisoned for the raid, including Giammattei. After several months in jail awaiting trial he was acquitted and released.

He takes over from President Jimmy Morales who spent much of his four-year term dodging corruption charges.

The former television comedian who campaigned on a promise of “not corrupt, not a thief” will possibly be most remembered for kicking out a U.N. supported anti-corruption mission that was closing in on him and members of his family.

Juan Francisco Sandoval, head of the special prosecutor against impunity office, said he hopes the future will be better without Morales. “He was the roadblock for the fight against corruption and impunity,” Sandoval said.

In a farewell speech heavy on nationalist and religious themes, Álvaro Arzú, the outgoing president of Congress, said Morales had “defended the sovereignty of Guatemala.”

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Hamilton County’s ‘Wellness Unit’ part of nationwide effort to improve mental health among officers

NOBLESVILLE, Ind. (WISH) — An initiative to improve employee well-being at the Hamilton County Sheriff’s Office is among a spate of efforts across the nation to address mental health concerns among officers.

Sheriff Dennis Quakenbush announced the department’s new “Wellness Unit”  — devoted to the physical, mental and spiritual health of its deputies, correctional officers and civilian employees — Friday in a Facebook post.

“Our guys really care about the public,” he said Monday in an interview with News 8. “When you see somebody who’s injured or victimized, it really impacts us… We’re only human.”

The Wellness Unit launched in January with funding approved by county council members and commissioners.

Appointments are held off-site at undisclosed locations to protect the privacy of employees. Supervisors are not briefed on which employees seek counseling or what they discuss during sessions.

Information gathered during counseling sessions will not be used to demote or discipline employees, and will only be disclosed if required by law, including when somebody poses an immediate danger to themselves or others.

The department’s entire staff will receive training related to suicide prevention, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, critical incidents, addiction, mindfulness and officer wellness, the sheriff said.

Nearly 1 in 4 police officers has thoughts of suicide at some point in their life, according to the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI); the suicide rate for police officers is four times higher than the rate for firefighters.

Years of daily exposure to stress, trauma and tragedy can have other devastating consequences if appropriate coping skills are not developed, according to Susan Sherer-Vincent, a licensed clinical social worker, certified alcoholism counselor and licensed marriage and family therapist involved in launching the Wellness Unit.

“Think of the hurricanes that come in, in Florida, and think of the palm trees where they bend,” she explained. “But then, what happens afterwards? They go back up. That’s called resilience. We want our officers to bend, not break.”

Until approximately 3 to 5 years ago, officers were often conditioned to “pull [themselves] up by the bootstraps and go to the next call” instead of addressing personal struggles, Sherer-Vincent said.

Cultivating resiliency can be difficult within a law enforcement culture that equates mental health challenges with “weakness,” she said.

“[Officers] are trained to have the warrior mentality,” Sherer-Vincent told News 8. “Truly, they would have been made fun of [in the past for seeking counseling].”

She compared strong, silent officers with underdeveloped coping skills to California’s famed redwood trees.

“They’re pretty sturdy. But what would happen if you took an ax and hit those every single day, day after day, for years? They would eventually fall,” she said.

Quakenbush credits his wife, church and non-law enforcement friends with providing “a really good support system.”

“But sometimes, you need a professional,” he said, urging employees to “talk through” negative emotions instead of turning to alcohol and other substances for temporary relief.

Several internal cases that resulted in disciplinary action during his year-long tenure as sheriff may have been prevented with wellness-focused intervention, Quakenbush said.

He was unable to comment on personnel matters. 

Sources within the department indicated some of the cases involved employees with substance abuse issues that had escalated over time, possibly as a result of work-related stress that had gone unaddressed. 

“I wouldn’t say that [disciplinary action] was happening often,” Quakenbush told News 8. “But seeing it happen and knowing that we probably could have done something about it made it impactful and something that we wanted to make a priority.”

Hamilton County announced its Wellness Unit days after New York City police officials revealed plans to hire a team of psychologists to combat a spike in officer suicides.

On Feb. 13, Indianapolis police officials said they planned to swear in the department’s first full-time therapy dog by the end of March.

  • FIND SUPPORT: Learn more about supporting law enforcement wellness on NAMI.org

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