Guatemala City was rocked with protests by residents who demanded the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina over corruption charges as this sample essay will discuss.
Guatemala President resigns for being involved with fraud
On Sept. 2, the people got their wish when the 64-year-old, one-term leader resigned after Congress stripped him of immunity in a corruption probe over tariffs that first came to light earlier this year.
The La Linea corruption scandal
In April 2015, evidence of a corruption ring was presented by an international watchdog agency, in partnership with the U.N., that implicated importers and Guatemalan customs officials in an illegal tariff scam. The whole thing worked as follows: the corrupt officials would forge documents that would grant drastic importing discounts to greedy importers in exchange for products. The two parties would then split the discounts.
As time went on, the scam funneled untold millions in state revenue to the hidden bank accounts of those involved. The La Linea—Spanish for “the line”—scandal is named in reference to the phone line on which the scam transactions were conducted.
While the scheme is alleged to have predated the Molina Administration, it supposedly kicked into overdrive once he took office in 2012. Before long, corrupt officials were pressuring importers with increasingly outrageous bribes. Eventually, the importers began working with investigators, who uncovered the scam by obtaining financial statements and recorded phone calls.
As news of the scandal erupted into protests, Vice President Roxana Baldetti resigned on May 8; she was ultimately arrested for her part in La Linea on Aug. 21. That same day, prosecutors submitted evidence that directly implicated President Molina in the scam. On Sept. 1, he was stripped of immunity from prosecution in a unanimous Congressional vote; a move that prompted his resignation the following day. After facing charges in court on Sept. 3, Molina was locked up in a Guatemala City prison, and the office of President was handed to Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, who’d recently stepped in to fill Baldetti’s role.
A crackdown on the part of the UN
The La Linea scandal managed to bring down Molina’s presidency because the investigation was conducted by the International Commission Against Corruption in Guatemala—known in Spanish as the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG)—which is run by the UN. Had the investigation been carried out by a domestic agency, the Guatemalan government would have likely shut it down before it managed to disrupt the status quo. Though primarily staffed by non-Guatemalans, the CICIG works closely with tribunals inside the country to seek the prosecution of corrupt government bodies.
The shady practices of the Guatemalan government has long been a source of discontent among the nation’s citizens, but La Linea sparked a level of outrage never before seen among the general public. From the moment the revelations were first publicized in April, thousands of people took to the streets of the nation’s largest cities. As the scandal continued to unravel following dozens of high-level arrests over the ensuing month, the protests grew louder and larger.
A turning point in the scandal came in August when Guatemala’s conservative chamber of commerce severed its long-held loyalty to Pérez Molina and called for his resignation. This move was prompted by CICIG-uncovered revelations that the President had been more than merely an inheritor of the La Linea scheme, but an active participant. On Aug. 28, businesses throughout the nation went on strike in protest of Molina’s presidency.
Upon his Sept. 2 resignation, an arrest warrant for Molina was issued by Guatemalan attorney general Thelma Aldana, who pointedly remarked that “justice can reach anyone,” in reference to the sudden, unexpected fall of the nation’s most powerful figure (Taub).
A history of corruption in Guatemala
Molina’s downfall might seem like the proverbial collapse of a corrupt government, but scams like La Linea are systemic of problems that date back to the mid 1990s, when intelligence forces gained control of Guatemala in the aftermath of the nation’s 36-year civil war. For nearly two decades, these same forces have used that power to line their own pockets at the expense of the government’s ability to serve its own people.
Consequently, the nation has struggled with heretofore unseen levels of poverty and violence. As of 2013, homicides in Guatemala have averaged 40 per 100,000 residents: the fifth highest rate in the world (Taub).
CICIG’s mandate is to identify the clandestine groups at the heart of Guatemala’s corruption, the likes of which break laws for profit from within the system. Allegedly, these groups use their governmental contacts to conduct organized crime and international drug deals. Leeching off the state, these groups have exhausted the nation’s institutions and economy; it’s a pattern that has led to violent conditions in towns and villages throughout the Central American country.
Winners and heroes: the CICIG
Established in 2006, the CICIG was created to strengthen Guatemala’s laws at all levels of power. According to former Vice President and CICIG co-founder Eduardo Stein, the commission’s starting goal was to investigate crime at every branch of government and prosecute wrongdoing that would otherwise get a free pass. Knowing that the UN Security Council had helped various post-war countries, the commission asked for international assistance with toughening up the Guatemalan judicial system (Watson).
In light of its triumph over the La Linea ringleaders, the CICIG has drawn praise throughout Central America, where the commission’s current leader, Ivan Velasquez, has become a regional hero as of late.
- According to the website for the International Commission Against Corruption in Guatemala, the CICIG’s mandate is based on three objectives (“Mandato”):
- Uncover any high-powered organizations that operate above the law at the expense of the freedom, safety, and financial well-being of Guatemalan citizens; identify the methods by which such groups operate and profit from their activities.
- Work with the state to dissolve these organizations, uncover their criminal activities, and prosecute their members.
- Advocate reforms in policy that would put a permanent stop to such organizations.
Molina’s military and political background
Before assuming the presidency in 2012, Pérez Molina had earned distinctions in military leadership and congressional politics. A graduate of the Inter-American Defense College, he was instrumental in the 1983 military coup that saw Defense Minister Óscar Humberto Mejía take power from Guatemalan President Efraín Ríos Montt. A decade later, while serving as the nation’s Director of Military Intelligence, he used his clout to force iron-fisted President Jorge Serrano Elías from office. Under the administration of subsequent President Ramiro de León Carpio, Molina served as Chief of Staff, and was instrumental in securing the 1996 Peace Accords between the Guatemalan military and guerilla forces.
In 2003, Molina was elected to Congress as a member of the Patriotic Party, which he founded two years earlier. Running on a tough-on-crime platform in the 2007 presidential election, he was narrowly defeated by National Unity of Hope leader Álvaro Colom. At around the same time, political assassins claimed the lives of several Patriotic Party members, including Molina assistant Aura Marina Salazar Cutzal. Molina rebounded in the 2011 presidential election, where he came to victory on the promise of ending the drug war in his country.
Alleged human rights abuses
Just as he came to power in 2011, reports surfaced that Molina played a role in the 1982–83 scorched earth campaigns of Efraín Ríos Montt (Willard). Heading a counterinsurgency team in Guatemala’s western highlands, Molina allegedly oversaw the torture of guerillas, the massacre of villages, and the resettlement of survivors in areas controlled under martial law.
Simultaneously, another set of revelations surfaced; these provided by the indigenous Waqib Kej organization, which alleged that Molina oversaw torture and murder in the northwest Guatemalan department of Quiché during the early 1980s (“Allegation Letter”). Molina would deny these allegations, which have been further disputed by U.S. documents, which tend to paint the now-ex-President as one of the most progressive former heads of Guatemala’s military (Rosenberg and McDonald).
Calls for CICIG-type commissions in other countries
The CICIG’s success at bringing down top-level corruption within Guatemala has sparked calls for likeminded commissions that would deal with similar problems in other Spanish American countries. Honduras, for example, has called for a CICIG-type commission to deal with that nation’s bureaucratic vice. Similar talk has also been raised in Mexico, especially since the second escape of twice-imprisoned drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who walked out of a maximum security prison to whereabouts unknown on July 11. Velasquez is quick to stress, however, that such commissions need cooperation from their own local governments.
According to Mexico’s ex-Foreign Secretary Jorge Castaneda, Honduras is likelier to get the necessary state cooperation for such a commission, despite calls for such action in his own country. Mexico, however, might need it more than any other nation on earth; and not just because of the government’s well-publicized failure to keep the world’s most notorious drug lord locked away. In 2012, for example, 98 percent of murders committed in Mexico went unsolved (Pachico). One of the most horrifying cases in the broken justice system dates to Sept. 2014, when 43 students from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College disappeared in Iguala, Guerrero. So far, the remains of only two have been found.
Taub, Amanda. “Guatemala’s crisis, explained: why the president just resigned.” Vox. Vox Media, Inc. 3 Sept. 2015. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
Watson, Katy. “Guatemala sets pace in corruption fight.” BBC News. BBC.14 Sept. 2015. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
“Mandato: Acuerdo de creación de la CICIG.” CICIG. Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, n.d. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
Willard, Emily. “Otto Pérez Molina, Guatemalan President-Elect, with “Blood on his hands”.” Unredacted. The National Security Archives. 14 Nov. 2011. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
“Allegation Letter.” Guatemala Human Rights Commission/USA. n.p.6 July 2011. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
Rosenberg, Mica, and Mike McDonald. “New Guatemala leader faces questions about past”. Reuters. Thomson Reuters. 11 Nov. 2011. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.
Pachico, Elyssa. “Cold case: 98 percent of Mexico’s 2012 murder cases unsolved.” The Christian Science Monitor. Christian Science Publishing Society. 18 July 2013. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.