Thousands of ecstatic protesters took to the streets to celebrate and demand justice Saturday in Guatemala's capital after Vice President Roxana Baldetti resigned amid a corruption scandal that has already seen at least 24 people arrested, including the country's top tax official.
The demonstrators gathered in front of the National Palace in Guatemala City and outside of Congress after lawmakers voted unanimously in an emergency session to accept Baldetti's resignation. By resigning, Baldetti forfeited the immunity from prosecution she was afforded as a top government official, and will now likely face an investigation into her alleged role in the scandal. A judge ruled last night that Baldetti is a flight risk and cannot leave the country.
Reports have linked Baldetti to a ring accused of taking bribes to allow individuals to avoid paying customs taxes. Authorities are searching for Baldetti's former top aide, Juan Carlos Monzon Rojas, who was the alleged ringleader of a racket that officials have said defrauded the state of millions. Monzon disappeared while taking a trip to South Korea with the vice president in April. Baldetti has denied any wrongdoing.
"Her resignation is due to a personal decision with the only interest being to leave her office voluntarily, to submit herself to and cooperate with whatever investigations may be necessary and above all within the due process," Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina said Friday.
According to the Guardian, at least 50 private citizens and public servants in Guatemala are reportedly considered suspects in the case. The country's current and former tax chiefs are among those suspected of being involved in the scheme.
Around 3,000 people gathered Saturday evening on the streets of Guatemala City, waving the country's blue and white flag and holding signs demanding justice, including one that said "to prison with the thieves."
Lilian Castillo, a protester, told VICE News that Guatemalans are tired of "all the corruption that goes on here, and now we also want President Otto Perez to resign."
Perez and Baldetti took office together in 2011. Perez is a former military general who was a key figure in Guatemala's civil war that ended in 1996 after more than 30 years of fighting. A spokesman for Perez said a new vice president could be selected as soon as next week.
Another protester, Jose Vasquez, expressed satisfaction that the corruption that has plagued Guatemala can seemingly no longer be committed with impunity. "Finally, justice is being served in our country," he said.
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Saul Martinez contributed reporting from Guatemala City