A remarkable, even for Guatemala, ten days culminated yesterday in thousands of people marching in Guatemala City calling for the President and Vice-president to resign among accusations of massive corruption.
We reported in 2010 that “whilst CICIG – the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala [Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala] – is no stranger to criticism, it has come under attack in recent weeks, the intensity of which seems to be aimed at delegitimising the very basis of the organisation.” Where particular interests are concerned, nothing much changes.
CICIG was created in 2006 to bolster Guatemala’s weak judicial institutions by helping to investigate high-profile crimes, especially within the government and government apparatus. It has a two year mandate and requires that the Guatemalan government request each subsequent two year term. The commission’s current mandate expires in September of this year, and Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina had expressed doubts about allowing it to stay, mainly citing issues of sovereignty and that he would not accept its imposition. Support for CICIG had come from many groups within Guatemala, as well as US Vice-president Joe Biden and the US Congress.
Timing, they say, is everything….
On the 16th April, CICIG, along with the Chief Prosecutor’s office (Ministerio Público – MP) arrested 20 officials of the state’s primary agency responsible for the administration of tax collection, SAT – La Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria – accused of being part of a massive tax fraud and contraband ring – given the name of ‘La Linea’. Among the 20 arrested were the current and former heads of SAT.
One week later, Pérez Molina agreed to extend the mandate of CICIG for another two years.
In addition to the arrests, a warrant was issued for the private secretary of Vice-president, Roxana Baldetti. He was with the Vice-president in South Korea, at the time of the arrests and remains a fugitive from justice. The private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón, is accused of being one of the ringleaders of the criminal operation, known as ‘La Linea‘.
It was stated that the accused collected bribes in exchange for charging reduced customs duties and that members of the criminal group altered paperwork for shipping containers going through customs at the country’s two main seaports. It appeared that investigators became suspicious after the Guatemalan tax administration failed to record a single complaint about tax fraud during two years.
It would appear that this is the natural end point of the Partido Patriota (Patriot Party – PP) project. The PP was founded by Pérez Molina and Baldetti in 2002, as well as by Alejandro Sinibaldi, the putative PP candidate for this year’s Presidential elections. Sinibaldi has since resigned from the party in the wake of the scandal.
It has been suggested that, for some, the PP project was simply the capture of the State or, more importantly, its revenue. It was to make an assault on the State through its customs and excise. As the military did in the 70s, Pérez Molina and Baldetti had decided from the first day of the current presidency to take control of the customs and the ports and in their first Semana Santa in post, they privatised the Quetzal Port – away from the attention of the people. Then they installed a close friend of Baldetti as Manager of Customs within SAT.
And so it continued.
To cries of “resign”, thousands of people from diverse sections of society met to demand the resignation of both Pérez Molina and Baldetti. The march included university students, workers, the elderly and the young, artists, housewives and church members. Both left and right were in attendance and making the same demand.
In addition to these demands, placards were making direct links between the theft of resources from the public purse and the failure of the State to provide the basic services of health and education as well as the eradication of poverty.
There was also the banner saying, “They have robbed us of so much that they have stolen our fear”.
It was one of the largest demonstrations in Guatemala that was not sponsored by a political group and passed off peacefully. This was in no small measure due to the Constitutional Court making an order that the President, the Interior Ministry (El Ministro de Gobernación) and the Director of Police to strictly preserve public order so as to prevent and avoid acts of provocation or violence – to permit the citizenry to exercise their right to protest.
It would appear that both Pérez Molina and Baldetti have been put on notice.
Demonstrations were also reported from Quetzaltenango, Cobán, Alta Verapaz y Huehuetenango, as well as from around world in Mexico, Argentina, United Kingdom and Chile, among others.
Maybe the only thing left to do for Pérez Molina and Baldetti in these remaining eight months in office is to avoid being caught red-handed and getting sent to jail.
As for the PP, their first two choices for the Presidency have both resigned, as have several highly placed candidates for Mayors in the upcoming elections. They probably don’t deserve the people’s trust – they certainly haven’t earned it.
You can read more here….