On Friday, the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and Public Prosecutor’s office revealed evidence connecting Guatemala President Otto Pérez Molina to the massive customs corruption network known as La Línea. Prosecutors have filed a legal motion to strip Pérez Molina of his presidential immunity – the second action of its kind to be filed in the last 3 months.
For the eighteenth week in a row, protesters from across the country took to the streets to demand the President’s resignation. At least of 16 members of his cabinet and other high-level posts have resigned; 11 did so after new evidence was released on Friday directly implicating the president. As Pérez Molina’s government crumbled around him Sunday night, he dug in his heels – refusing to step down and proclaiming his innocence in a televised address.
says to preserve the institutional integrity of the state & democracy, he will not be bullied into stepping down
— NISGUA (@NISGUA_Guate) August 24, 2015
Despite being more isolated than ever, the President remained combative in his address, denouncing foreign intervention and alluding that powerful economic interests from the Chamber of Commerce (CACIF) are conspiring against him. During the speech, which is being described as a “declaration of war” against CACIF, Pérez Molina threatened to push Guatemala even closer to the edge of complete political turmoil as nation-wide strikes and ongoing protests are expected to ramp up this week.
Wiretaps, emails, and other documents revealed on Friday and presented as evidence in court this morning accuse former Vice President Roxana Baldetti and President Pérez Molina of heading the criminal structure La Línea. The customs fraud network is believe to have stolen more than 8 million quetzals. In the wiretaps, Molina and Baldetti are referred to as “the 1”, “the 2”, “the head of the plantation”, and “the mera mera (the head honcho).” In a Monday morning interview, Attorney General Thelma Aldana made clear that the President himself was caught on tape communicating with the criminal network.
En escuchas donde se identifica al Presidente, la fiscal indica “son inevitables porque no se le tiene intervenido el teléfono a él 1/2
— MP de Guatemala (@MPguatemala) August 24, 2015
Pero él se comunica con la estructura criminal, con quienes si se tiene la intervención telefónica y si lo escuchamos”. 2/2
— MP de Guatemala (@MPguatemala) August 24, 2015
Above tweets: In wiretaps where the President is identified, the public prosecutor states, “It is inevitable, because his telephone has not been tapped.” 1/2; But he communicates with the criminal structure, who have their telephones tapped, and we heard him.” 2/2
On Friday, the public prosecutor immediately filed a request to strip the President of his immunity, while Baldetti was arrested and transferred from the private hospital where she had sought refuge to Matamoros military prison in zone 1 of Guatemala City. While Matamoros has been exclusively for male prisoners, a reform published this morning – three days after Baldetti was arrested – changed the rules to allow women.
The first attempt to remove Pérez Molina’s immunity was filed by Congressman Amilcar Pop in June and was unanimously accepted by the Supreme Court. And while a congressional investigative commission recommended stripping immunity and opening the president up to a full investigation, the recommendation only earned 88 of the 105 congressional votes necessary to proceed. This decision was rejected by protesters and political analysts alike – further evidence that the political system is irrevocably broken and electoral reforms are absolutely necessary.
The latest request to strip President Molina of his immunity will likely be accepted by the Supreme Court, although questions remain as to how Congress will react. Some believe that Pérez Molina’s surprising decision to stay in power hinges on his belief that his allies – including presidential hopeful Manuel Baldizón and other Molina supporters who make up the LIDER-Partido Patriota alliance – will save him from immediate prosecution by maintaining his presidential immunity.
In the meantime, Guatemalans remain vigilant as rumors circulate that the President will attempt to flee the country. Citizens presented a legal action Sunday morning requiring a judge to physically locate Pérez after the president failed to appear in public for 48 hours. He was eventually located mid-day Sunday at the Presidential Palace in zone 1.
Roxana Baldetti’s arraignment hearing took place Monday morning, during which time the prosecution laid out the groundwork for its case against the former Vice President. She is accused of illicit association, passive bribery and special cases of customs fraud for her involvement in the La Línea.