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Massive Protests Call for President to Resign as Corruption Scandal Hits Guatemala

Dozens of officials have resigned from President Otto Perez Molina's government and his former vice president has been arrested in connection with a customs fraud scheme.
Manifestación frente el Palacio Nacional para pedir la dimisión del presidente de Guatemala Otto Perez Molina, en Ciudad de Guatemala, jueves 27 de agosto, 2015. (Imagen por Saul Martinez)

The administration of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has continued to waver. Following the arrest of the country's former vice president, and the filing of charges against Perez Molina, eight more members of the president's cabinet announced their resignations. Meanwhile, thousands of people have taken to the streets to demand Perez Molina's resignation.

Hundreds of businesses and schools across Guatemala chose to close or suspend classes on Thursday in solidarity with the movement demanding the president's resignation. The demands come after a UN Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala connected the president to a corruption ring within the Presidential Palace.


As of Thursday afternoon, the president had not been seen in over 72 hours.

The case against former Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti has moved swiftly since her arrest on August 21. Baldetti faces charges related to the corruption scandal, including "conspiracy," " customs fraud," and "passive bribery."

On August 24, she went before Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez under heavy security from the Guatemalan National Police. Two days later, on August 26, Judge Angel Galvez ordered that the former vice president must be transferred to the Santa Teresa women's prison in Guatemala.

The court's order follows Baldetti's statement to the court, in which she denied connection to the criminal network, which has become known as "The Line." She further stated to the court that she didn't believe that the president was connected to the scandal.

But President Molina is slowly becoming the last man standing in his cabinet after the resignation of the ministers of education, economy, health, and the head of the state investment commission. More than four-dozen officials have resigned since the crisis began in mid-April.

Related: Guatemala's President Faces Impeachment Over Alleged Links to Corruption Case

Former Vice President Roxana Baldetti during a court hearing; she is accused of leading a network of corruption. (Photo by Saul Martinez)

President Perez Molina has remained defiant. On August 23, he stated in a pre-recorded message on Guatemalan National television that he would not resign the presidency.

In the statement, the president took the calls for his resignation as a personal attack, and denied any part in the corruption scandal.


Furthermore, he denounced the charges the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, the United Nations sponsored anti-corruption body, brought against him, and referred to the calls for his resignation by members of the economic elite as being part of "an interventionist strategy."

In his speech, the president also included an apology for the corruption scandal that has gripped the country.

"The facts are the facts," said Pérez Molina in the video. "I cannot fail to recognize that this happened in my government and by officials close to me, and it forces me to make a public apology; and from the bottom of my heart, I ask Guatemalans forgiveness."

Support for the President has plummeted. On August 21, members of the the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations (CACIF), a powerful business association, officially retracted their support for Pérez Molina, and called for his resignation. CACIF had maintained their support for the administration up until the filing of charges on August 19.

The refusal of the president to resign has re-galvanized the social movement demanding his resignation. On August 27, tens of thousands marched across Guatemala with renewed calls for the resignation of Pérez Molina in a nationwide general strike.

"All (the president) has done is to deepen the crisis with his stubbornness to remain in office," the Social and Popular Assembly, an organization of over 70 social organizations from across Guatemalan society, wrote in their statement to the press following the president's broadcast. "He has no choice but to resign; any other way only deepens the conflict that Guatemala currently lives."


Hundreds of Guatemalans rally in front of the National Palace in Guatemala after President Molina refused to resign, on August 24. (Photo by Saul Martinez)

Thursday's protest, called the "day of national stoppage," comes after demonstrators erected roadblocks across rural Guatemala for the past two days, with protesters echoing the demands of demonstrators in Guatemala City. Over 37 different points along major highways were blocked.

Ahead of the demonstrations, Eunice Mendizabal, the acting interior minister, ordered the Guatemalan National Police to maintain social order, and to not allow the protesters to disrupt "constitutional rights." These orders were carried out late in the afternoon of August 25, when riot police violently evicted protesters from three roadblocks in the departments of Alta Verapaz, Chimaltenango, and Suchitepéquez.

Related: Guatemalans Demand Justice After Vice President Resigns Amid Corruption Scandal

Follow Jeff Abbott on Twitter: @palabrasdeabajo

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