For the past five months, protesters have filled Guatemala City’s central square again and again to demand that their president resign. Faces painted in patriotic blue and white, they have waved their banners, chanted their slogans, and bellowed their demands: The government must be held accountable to the people. Corruption must end. The president must go.
They have now achieved their goal. President Otto Perez Molina resigned Wednesday after the attorney general issued a warrant for his arrest. The day before, Guatemala’s Congress had voted unanimously to strip him of his immunity so that he could be prosecuted on charges of corruption
“I am going to respect due process and face this,” Perez told reporters after a court hearing and before he was escorted away to jail because he was deemed a flight risk. “I believe this is completely inconsistent.” Perez, 64, has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.
More resignations soon followed. The heads of the Ministries of Interior, Environment, Energy and Mines, the tax collection agency, the social security agency and the Guatemalan Central Bank have stepped down amid probes into a wide variety of corruption scandals.
The series of inquiries that ignited the public’s rage were the work of an uncommon alliance of local prosecutors and investigators backed by the United Nations, known as the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala or by its Spanish-language acronym, Cicig.
Cicig investigators have analyzed nearly ninety thousand intercepted telephone calls, six thousand e-mails, and a hundred and seventy-five thousand documents. Those taped telephone calls have captured government officials, who have been indicted in the corruption scheme, allegedly describing operational conversations and meetings with “the owner of the ranch,” with “the mero mero” (which can be translated as “the one,” or “the boss of bosses”) and “con el uno y el dos” (“with the No. 1 and the No. 2”). Prosecutors, considering the contents of these conversations and the alleged identity of the speakers, say these are clear references to the President and Vice-President.
CICIG and Justice Department prosecutors add that they’ve collected financial and bank evidence against Pérez Molina as well. It was a criminal scheme—allegedly stealing millions and millions of dollars from the public tax coffers of one of Latin America’s most impoverished countries.