Scandal-Ridden Baldetti Resigns as Guatemalan VP
EspañolEver since revelations first surfaced regarding the customs fraud and bribery scheme operating within Guatemala’s federal tax agency, Vice President Roxana Baldetti has been at the center of investigations. The vice president’s battered public image could seemingly take no more, when on Friday, May 8, Baldetti stepped down from her post amid mass protests calling for her resignation.
President Otto Pérez Molina called a press conference that same day and made the historic announcement: “A few moments ago, I received notice of the resignation of Vice President Ingrid Roxana Baldetti Elías.”
In an uncharacteristically subdued tone, Pérez assured the public that the vice president had made a “brave” decision and resigned for “personal” reasons.
Baldetti, however, did not address the public. “I suppose she is with her family,” the president said, admitting Baldetti had preferred he make the announcement.
During the brief press conference, the president appeared visibly distraught over his running mate’s downfall. He insisted Baldetti did not resign because of “pressure,” but to prove the accusations against her are false.
Political support for the vice president had worn thin in the days leading up to her resignation. On Wednesday, May 6, the Guatemalan Supreme Court ruled the Congress could revoke Baldetti’s immunity from prosecution. As demonstrations mounted calling for her removal, the vice president was seemingly left with no other choice.
When the press conference came to a close, Guatemalans took to the streets in front of the National Palace of Culture in celebration. “Sí se pudo!” the crowd shouted, “Yes we did.” Another chant soon broke out to signal the battle against corruption was far from over: “Otto Pérez, you’re next!”
Protesters first gathered in front of the palace on Saturday, April 25, when police initially revealed Baldetti’s personal secretary was the main suspect behind the illegal bribery scheme. Some 30,000 demonstrators came together that first day, followed by a steady stream of protests leading up to Friday’s announcement.
That evening, a group marched toward Congress to demand the legislature acknowledge Baldetti’s resignation.
“The domino effect has begun today,” the crowd chanted, while urging the UN-backed Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Public Ministry to get to the bottom of the scandal.
Following the announcement, chants of “you didn’t resign, we fired you” could also be heard. The seven Guatemalans who days ago had chained themselves to the Palace in protest also celebrated the vice president’s resignation: “We don’t belong to any political group, you can check it at the Supreme Electoral Court … We’re not afraid!”
La Línea and Baldetti’s Fall
For Roxana Baldetti, corruption allegations are nothing new. In 2012, Guatemalan daily El Periódico released an investigation detailing the vice president’s unexplained wealth. According to the report, Baldetti and her husband’s incomes do not account for their net worth, estimated at over US$13 million.
She was strongly questioned for approving the payment of 22 million quetzales for a “magic formula” that would clean up Lake Amatitlán. The project was later suspended, but the payment was never recovered.
Reports also surfaced alleging ties with Marllory Chacón, a drug trafficker known as the “Queen of the South” who was sentenced in the United States last week. While Baldetti denies ever having met her, Chacón allegedly attended the vice president’s 50th birthday party and donated US$2 million to the ruling Patriot Party.
Nevertheless, it was the CICIG and the Public Ministry’s dismantling of “La Línea” (The Line) that finally put Baldetti in the eye of the hurricane. Investigators argue that it was impossible for the vice president to be unaware of her personal secretary Juan Carlos Monzón’s illicit activities.
Furthermore, the pseudonyms “The 2,” “The Lady,” and “The R” — all associated with the vice president — are mentioned in the wiretaps investigators entered into evidence.
While this was going on, Baldetti was in South Korea receiving an honorary doctorate for her “social work,” accompanied by Monzón.
On Sunday, April 19, after President Otto Pérez Molina claimed only a day earlier that she was “making every effort to return,” Baldetti gave a press conference. It was her last public act.
During the conference, reporters asked when she had returned to Guatemala, and why she hired Monzón, who had a criminal history as a car thief. Baldetti appeared upset and nervous, and was “unable to recall” the time and date of her flight.
Days later the public learned she had returned to the country on Friday, April 17.
In the weeks that followed, Roxana Baldetti slowly crumbled. While President Pérez Molina tried to defend her, the task seemed increasingly impossible. Even still, the spokeswoman for the vice president, Karen Cardona, stated on May 6 that Baldetti would not resign.
The announcement defied resignation demands from the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations (CACIF), and the Supreme Court’s ruling to process the impeachment request issued by the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity (URNG), Winaq party, and the New Republic Movement (MNR).
The request for Baldetti to be stripped of her immunity was then moved to Congress, where five opposition congressmen formed an investigative committee. Baldetti tried to prevent the committee from moving forward by filing a writ with the Constitutional Court demanding they reject the impeachment request. The Court, however, responded to the vice president with a resounding and unanimous “no.”
A day later, President Pérez Molina announced her resignation.
What Happens Now?
On Saturday, May 9, the Congress accepted Baldetti’s resignation in an extraordinary plenary session: 149 members voted in favor, 0 against.
According to Guatemalan law, the president will now submit to Congress a list of three candidates to replace Baldetti.
Meanwhile, without immunity, Roxana Baldetti is banned from leaving the country. The Guatemalan people now await the results of the CICIG and Public Ministry’s investigation.
On Saturday, CICIG commissioner Iván Velásquez said the commission “does not make deals,” responding to the rumors that an arrangement was in place to avoid connecting Baldetti to La Línea.
Protests Continue, No Love for Baldizón
Protesters have signaled their plans to continue demonstrations, calling for an end to corruption in Guatemala. In the days after Baldetti’s resignation, some have taken to a new slogan: “It is not your turn, Baldizón” (#NoTeTocaBaldizón), referring to Manuel Baldizón, a presidential candidate for the opposition party Renewed Democratic Liberty (LIDER).