Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina Resigns Amid Corruption Scandal

September 3, 2015

Amid a corruption scandal that has been punctuated by daily protests in the country, Guatemala’s President Otto Pérez Molina has resigned.

In a letter presented to Congress at 11:58 p.m. on Wednesday, Pérez Molina said he was resigning “in the interest of the country.”

Just hours earlier, the country’s Congress had voted to strip Pérez Molina of his immunity. The country’s public prosecutor said on Twitter that the former president has been charged and an arrest warrant has been issued.

The Wall Street Journal reports:

“The president faces charges of fraud, illicit association and corruption related to a customs fraud ring that gave discounts on import tariffs to companies in exchange for kickbacks, the country’s Attorney General Thelma Aldana told Guatemalan television station Canal Antigua on Wednesday.

“‘We are convinced that he is involved (in the scheme),’ she told the station.”

Pérez Molina’s former vice president Roxana Baldetti is currently in jail facing charges of the same kind. Prosecutors allege she took a 50 percent cut of those bribes paid by businesses to skirt customs duties.

Pérez Molina, 64, has always maintained his innocence.

The Los Angeles Times reports that this case is “widely seen as an unprecedented blow against entrenched corruption and impunity in this Central American nation.”

The Times goes on:

“Each step in the process is a first, as no sitting president in Guatemala has been prosecuted for a crime, though some have faced corruption charges after leaving office.”

La Prensa Libre reports that the silence of a quiet, rainy night was broken as citizens of the city began to learn of the former president’s decision.

A group of young people carrying flags, reports the paper, celebrated in front of the judicial palace. They celebrated this moment, the paper reports, as “a triumph of the people.”

Alejandro Maldonado Aguirre, who took over as vice president when Baldetti was arrested, has been sworn in as president, the paper reports.

Update at 7:42 a.m. ET. Cover Of Impunity Has Been Lifted:

One of the people who turned out for the celebration on the streets of Guatemala City was Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Rigoberta Menchú.

“It’s important that our citizens continue this movement with courage and with deep maturity,” Menchú told Prensa Libre’s Glenda Sánchez.

Menchú gave an interview to the AFP, yesterday, in which she called this moment Guatemala’s “Great Awakening.”

“Since the social movement began, it was clear it had only one objective: a resounding no to corruption. It was a no to the looting of the country and the state’s coffers, something that has been going on for many years,” Menchú said. “This was nothing new, but what we didn’t expect was this civic example of protest by Guatemalans: their indignation never turned violent.

“What happened is that the cover of impunity — this cover that was embedded in all our institutions and was impossible to touch — was removed.”

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