A Week Before a Huge Vote, Demonstrators Fill Guatemala's Streets, Calling For President to Step Down


Guatemalans have been protesting since mid-2015 against government corruption. Photo: Flickr / Surizar / Creative Commons License.

Update ( September 2, 2015): Guatemala's Congress voted Tuesday to strip President Otto Pérez Molina of his immunity. The decision paved the path to a possible prosecution against him as part of a corruption investigation that sparked protests calling for his resignation.


A “citizenship celebration” was underway on the streets of Guatemala City as of Thursday. The pro-democracy demonstration, which has been peaceful, is being compared to the rallies that helped overthrow dictator Jorge Ubico in 1944 and launched the country's so-called Ten Years of Spring.

University students, peasants, families, indigenous groups, artists, cities, towns, hospitals, and more are rapidly joining calls for President Otto Pérez Molina to step down.

The trending hashtag #RenunciaYA (#ResignNow) has given way to #YoNoTengoPresidente (“I do not recognize the President”). Now this week's demonstrations have inspired a new hashtag: #27A.

President Pérez Molina's public support appears to be at its lowest point ever, just two weeks ahead of the country's general elections. The military, which has been a pillar of Pérez Molina's political strength in the past, has remained silent about the demonstrations sweeping the nation, so far.

Investigative journalist Allan Nairn argued on Twitter that Molina is finally paying the price for his alleged complicity in a genocide reportedly committed by his regime during the course of a 36-year civil war that ended in 1996:

The demonstrations began on April 16 when the future of the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) was suddenly put in jeopardy after President Pérez Molina refused to renew its mandate for the third time.

The rallies that began at that time were geared around the question of extending CICIG’s mandate beyond September.

After an intense political battle, the commission was allowed to continue its work, which gradually exposed a massive corruption ring in the presidency called “La Linea,” where top officials cut deals with importers to evade customs duties.

On August 26, the real bombshell came, when officials transferred Pérez Molina's former vice president, Roxana Baldetti, to a high security prison, ahead of her trial. This marked the first time in Guatemalan history that someone so powerful had been stripped of pretrial privileges and subjected to such harsh incarceration.

Preventive prison for former Vice President Roxana Baldetti

Worries of corruption during the transition

After the country's most powerful business lobby, CACIF, demanded Pérez Molina's resignation, most of the President's cabinet hurried to resign, leaving their posts vacant. Well-known lobbyists soon took their places, leading to a host of new concerns about the country's executive branch.

Among the causes for concern reported by Nomada.gt is Guatemala's 4G communications network, which the outlet says is now at risk of ending up under the control of a monopoly. Similarly, it was reported that dubious medical supply contracts have been extended.

Other top officials have begun fleeing the country, but not without being noticed by ordinary citizens at the airports:

That Bonilla rat (former Interior Minister, Mauricio Lopez Bonilla) flees

Demonstrators at today's rally, which participants are calling “Dignity Day,” included Nobel-Peace-Prize-winner Rigoberta Menchu:

With the colleagues of the Foundation, I will walk with all the hope of this world.

Multinational fast food chains like McDonald's hedged their bets:

McDonald's supports Guatemala and will close its restaurants for today.

As Guatemalans of all ages and colors take to the streets, their elected officials in the Guatemalan Congress have initiated a process similar to impeachment that would strip President Molina of immunity from criminal prosecution.

If lawmakers cannot complete this process by the end of next week, Molina could enjoy another four years of immunity as a representative of the Central American Parliament, a regional association of which Guatemala shares membership with El Salvador, Nicaragua, Panama, Honduras and the Dominican Republic.

Pérez Molina would become a representative of the regional body automatically after his presidency.

Organization and random acts of kindness during the crisis

Anonymous in Guatemala has taken a very active and sensitive role during the demonstrations, even distributing water to police:

A member from Anonymous gives water to police officers.

The demonstrations, so far, have been massive, peaceful, and scattered across the country. Young people and youth groups have played a leading role in the rallies, as the Congress moved to take from President Molina his legal immunity.

As Insight Crime explains:

Dirty money and lack of transparency has allowed corruption to fester throughout Guatemala‘s political landscape, regardless of the party in power.  Addressing these systemic issues will be painful for elites and businesses who benefit from the status quo, which makes it all the more telling that the governments of Honduras and El Salvador recently rejected the possibility of creating their own version of the CICIG.”

Elections will take place on September 6, with enormous implications for the country.

The International Commission Against Impunity (CICIG) has warned that Guatemala's political parties are significantly compromised in terms of party financing, calling into question the legitimacy of the entire election.

What happens before and after September 6 will be vital to shaping the country's foreseeable future.


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