BELIZE CITY, Thurs. Sept 3, 2015–The street movement in Guatemala City that began in April and has seen the country’s ex-Vice President Roxana Baldetti stripped of her immunity from prosecution and imprisoned amidst allegations of corruptions, continued to gather force with nation-wide calls for President Otto Perez Molina to step down, climaxing on Wednesday when Molina resigned as President.
Baldetti will face trial for customs fraud, illicit association and passive bribery. Molina is also facing the same charges.
Hours after he resigned, however, Molina, like his ex-vice president, was sitting in a prison cell at Matamoros prison, located on a military base in Guatemala City.
Earlier this month, Molina declared: “I categorically deny and reject the accusation that I was involved (in a corruption scheme) and having received any money from that customs fraud scheme.”
Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets in months of protest that began in April over a multimillion corruption ring that reached all the way to the presidency, crippling the government, until the Guatemalan Congress voted 118-0 to accept Molina’s resignation on Wednesday.
Molina’s new Vice President, Alejandro Maldonado, was sworn in as president this afternoon. His term will expire in January when the new president will be sworn in. Guatemala will hold national elections on Sunday.
The corruption ring reportedly encompassed about 50 persons, some including high-ranking government officials who are accused of robbing the country of millions of dollars in customs duty.
In court today, Thursday, Molina listened to hours of taped conversations that prosecutors said implicated him in the corruption scandal.
Guatemalans are not alone in the region with dissatisfaction with their governments. Protests have also erupted in Brazil, Chile, Peru, Ecuador and elsewhere in the region.
The probe that started the protest was the work of Guatemalan prosecutors in alliance with United Nations investigators, known as the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, which is also know by its Spanish acronym, Cicig.
The 64-year-old Molina has become the first Guatemalan president to resign over corruption.
Adriana Beltran, a senior associate at the Washington Office on Latin America and the author of a book on Guatemalan corruption, said neighboring countries can learn a lesson from what’s happened in Guatemala, where the international community, local officials and the public came together to clean up a corrupt government.
“What you saw is a new generation emerge that said, ‘We’ve had it,’ “ Beltrán said.”This is a model worth considering … The rule of law can prevail, and justice can take place.”
Prime Minister Dean Barrow, in comments made to reporters today, said, “I was very pleased with the way he [Molina] behaved towards Belize during his tenure.
“I had feared that as President, he would have been belligerent, hawkish and irredentist. I was absolutely pleased that that was not the case,” Barrow offered.
Barrow noted that “both in terms of the interpersonal relation between us and in terms of the institutional arrangements, he was a gentleman, he was restrained, and he was responsible. He appeared to me to be not one-dimensional. He struck me and he said it, as somebody who absolutely recognized, and welcomed the separate reality of Belize, while of course, still insisting that they had their claims and their point of view.”
Barrow added, “I understand the internal dynamics and I make no judgments as to whether or not he is guilty of anything that mandated his going.”
Instability in Guatemala given our particular circumstances … given the difficulties we have just experienced with respect, certainly with the Sarstoon incident … instability is certainly concerning. I hope that because the military-to-military relationship is not just good, but is based on structures and operating protocols as well as the inter-personal relations between our General and his opposite number, I hope that in these circumstances, professionalism will prevail. But it has to be worrying if there is some sort of vacuum at the top.
“Presumably, the Guatemalan Vice-President Maldonado, who I gather is a good man, will be able to exercise the duties of the presidency in a manner that will see all officialdom in Guatemala accepting of his authority. So I am hoping that it won’t ultimately, in any practical way, affect the situation with us, but that it has that potential, in my view, is undoubted,” Barrow explained.