After months of protests, the tens of thousands of Guatemalans who have taken to the streets calling for President Otto Perez Molina to leave office amid revelations about corruption in his administration are now one step closer to having their demands met.
On Friday, the International Commission Against Immunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and the Guatemalan Public Ministry filed charges against Perez Molina in the country's Supreme Court for his alleged role in a crime ring known as "La Linea," or "The Line." The charges could lead to the embattled president being impeached.
The development comes after the arrest of former vice president Roxana Baldetti on charges related to her alleged involvement in La Linea. Guatemalan National Police raided Baldetti's house on Friday, seizing cellphones and hard drives. According to an "Order for Apprehension" filed on August 19, Baldetti faces charges of "conspiracy," "special case of customs fraud," and "passive bribery."
The scandal has already led to the forced resignation of more than three-dozen public officials, and the arrest of many others. Initial findings released by the CICIG on April 16 said La Linea operated in the country's tax collection agency and defrauded Guatemalan taxpayers of $120 million. Baldetti's personal secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón, was named as the ringleader of operation. He disappeared during an official visit to South Korea with the former vice president, and his current whereabouts remain unknown.
On April 19, Baldetti went before the press to distance herself from her former personal secretary, and to deny any connection to the corruption scandal. She was forced to resign on May 8.
The CICIG and Guatemala's attorney general concluded that Perez Molina had also participated in the crime ring after reviewing phone calls and documents. "Every reference to '1' and 'la 2' in the case of 'The Line,' corresponded to Otto Pérez Molina and Roxana Baldetti," Ivan Velasquez of CICIG said at the press conference announcing the charges.
As president, however, Perez Molina currently enjoys immunity from prosecution. A recent vote in the Guatemalan Congress to strip Perez Molina of his immunity narrowly failed last week.
Following the announcement of the charges against Perez Molina and Baldetti's arrest, members of Anonymous Guatemala called for a celebratory gathering in front of the National Palace. Video of the demonstration showed a celebratory atmosphere with the crowd belting out the Guatemalan national anthem.
Guatemala is in the midst of its worst political crisis since signing of the peace accords in 1996 that brought an end to the country's 36-year internal armed conflict. The latest developments come just 15 days before the country is set to vote in a presidential election. Protesters have increasingly called for the election to be delayed, and the charges have further added to the disenfranchisement that many Guatemalan citizens feel with the country's political system.
Protests have occurred on a near-weekly basis since April, drawing thousands of angry citizens who have adopted the rallying cry of "renuncia ya" — "resign now" — directed at Perez Molina.
According to Reuters, Perez Molina told reporters "I greatly regret this" as he got into his car on Friday at an event outside the Guatemalan capital after the charges against him were announced.
Perez's spokesman, Jorge Ortega, reportedly said the president was unlikely to step down.
"I don't think he's going to resign," Ortega said. "There's a group of political advisors who will provide the executive with a series of options following these latest developments."
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