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Guatemalans Demand Their President and VP “Quit Already”

By: Pep Balcárcel - @PepBal - Apr 26, 2015, 6:36 pm

EspañolPutting aside ideologies and party alleigances, thousands of Guatemala City residents occupied the capital’s Plaza de la Constitución on Saturday, to demand the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti over a massive corruption scandal.

Los guatemaltecos llevaban carteles para mostrar su indignación. Foto: Pep Balcárcel
Guatemalans display placards calling for Otto Pérez Molina and Roxana Baldetti to resign. (PanAm Post)

Over 15,000 citizens, from teenagers to senior citizens took to the streets to register their indignation with the case dubbed La Línea (The Line). They confronted the executive’s seat in the National Palace of Culture with cries of ¡Fuera! (Out) and ¡Estamos Hartos! (We’ve had enough).

In contrast to when Guatemalans took to the streets en masse during protests over the Rosenberg case in May 2009, on this occasion there were no counter-protests on the same day organized by pro-government groups.

The anger against Pérez Molina and Baldetti resonated beyond the capital, with residents of the cities of Cobán, Quetzaltenango, and Sololá, among others, calling for the duo to step down.

Guatemalan expatriates also held protests in Argentina, Chile, the United States, and the United Kingdom, among other countries.

Marchers carried placards and banners rejecting corruption, Guatemalan flags, and whistles. Many branded the top two figures in Guatemalan politics “thieves” over their alleged links to corruption, in protests which local media outlets have described as historic.

#renunciaya
Anonymous Guatemala also made an appearance. (PanAm Post)

The gatherings in public spaces across the country were mirrored by a sustained citizen onslaught on Pérez and Baldetti via social media under the hashtag #RenuncieYa (#ResignNow).

Those on the streets were present despite an invitation circulating online in the days leading up to Saturday, inviting citizens to an “alternative” demonstration on Monday, April 27, which apparently ruled out a pacific protest.

The message claimed that “Guatemala will be paralyzed at the national level” on Monday, and warned citizens: “for safety, don’t send your children to class.”

In the Firing Line

The case of systematic customs fraud involving senior former and current officials of the Superintendency of Tax Administration (SAT) may soon be brought before a high-level court.

Through allowing firms to underreport the amount of goods entering the country, the ring waived duties for around 500 incoming shipping containers between May 2014 and February 2015, haemorrhaging at least 60 percent of customs taxes in return for bribes that ranged between US$2,600 and $13,000.

Businesses that sought this “service” were contacted by a group of customs agents, who gave them a telephone number known simply as “The Line” from which they received instructions.

Juan Carlos Monzón, Baldetti’s former private secretary who is accused of masterminding the kickback scheme, remains absent after joining Baldetti on a visit to an awards ceremony in South Korea. Honduran authorities have confirmed that Monzón recently arrived in the neighboring country, but have yet to determine his exact whereabouts.

Baldetti’s diplomatic visit to Seoul just as the corruption case came to light inflamed the ire of Guatemalans against the administration.

Nor was she quick to reveal her presence upon her return. Pérez Molina told press on Sunday, April 19, that his number two was doing everything she could to get back to face the music — only for it to emerge that Baldetti had touched down on Guatemalan soil on Friday, April 17.

On Thursday, Pérez Molina called on the United Nations to extend the mandate of its International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), which has played an important role in uncovering the case.

Nevertheless, six of the 22 individuals implicated have been released on bail, among them Javier Ortiz Arriaga, a.k.a. “Lieutenant Jérez,” who is thought to have been one of the leaders of the criminal scheme, as well as involved in other cases of customs-related corruption.

Frente al Palacio Nacional de la Cultura exigieron la renuncia de los mandatarios. Foto: Pep Balcárcel
Crowds demand the resignation of the president and vice president outside the National Palace of Culture. (PanAm Post)

Sending a Message

Throughout the protest, demonstrators were unable to get signal on their cellphones to make calls or send messages, leading some to complain about the saturation of networks, while others alleged that the government had blocked the signal.

The protest reached its peak when the cries denouncing corruption paused, and all demonstrators present in Guatemala city lifted their voices to sing the national anthem in unison.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

Pep Balcárcel

Pep Balcárcel is a humanities student at Francisco Marroquín University in Guatemala City and a PanAm Post intern. He has colaborated in Guatemalan media and published collections of poems and short stories. Follow @PepBal.