A Citizen Victory Against Corruption: Guatemala After Perez Molina

A Citizen Victory Against Corruption: Guatemala After Perez Molina
Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina sits in court where he faces corruption charges, after he submitted his resignation in Guatemala City, Sept. 3, 2015 (AP photo/Esteban Felix).

After months of peaceful protests, Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina was stripped of immunity and forced to step down last week. He now faces charges of illicit association, customs fraud and bribery for his alleged role in a massive corruption scheme. A judge has ordered that he remain in jail until his trial in December. Over a dozen public officials, including former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, Cabinet members and government ministers, have been arrested and put on trial for their participation in the criminal network.

The corruption scandals uncovered by the Public Prosecutor’s Office and the U.N.-led International Commission against Impunity (CICIG) set off waves of protests in recent months, but the political crisis didn’t derail general elections on Sept. 6. The results from the first round of voting reflect Guatemalans’ overwhelming frustration with the traditional political establishment. A former comedian is the presidential front-runner, with the run-off next month. But whoever wins the presidency will have to respond to the scrutiny of a population newly aware of its power to demand greater accountability and justice than ever before. Advancing much-needed structural reforms will not be an easy task, either.

It has been a whirlwind few weeks in Guatemala, following five months of massive weekly protests and public outrage over Perez Molina’s alleged involvement in a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal. His dramatic downfall came after the Guatemalan Supreme Court approved a motion on Aug. 25 to allow impeachment proceedings; a five-member congressional commission unanimously recommended stripping him of his prosecutorial immunity four days later. On Sept. 1, Congress voted to support the recommendation, with all 132 members present voting in favor of opening an investigation against him. Perez Molina submitted his resignation to Congress on Sept. 2. Within 24 hours, he appeared before a court to hear the charges leveled against him, the same day that Alejandro Maldonado was sworn in as his successor, until a newly elected president takes office in January.

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