Guatemala’s Presidential Race Headed to Runoff; Comedian Jimmy Morales Leads the Vote

Residents vote at a center in Guatemala City. Photo: Dania Rodríguez

Residents vote at a center in Guatemala City. Photo: Dania Rodríguez

Just days after former President Otto Pérez Molina resigned and was subsequently sent to prison, Guatemalans were faced with the next chapter in an ongoing political saga: the opportunity to elect a new leader.

When polls closed on September 6, votes had been cast not only for the new president and vice president — who will take office in January 2016 — but also for members of congress and the Central American Parliament, as well as for municipal leaders throughout the country.

FCN candidate Jimmy Morales — a comedian with no political experience, but who has marketed himself as a “new option” — led the presidential race alongside Manuel Baldizón (LIDER) and Sandra Torres (UNE). However, since no candidate secured the required 50% of the vote needed to win, a runoff election will take place in October between the two top candidates. [Read more about the leading candidates here].  Continue reading

Excerpt from Nómada interview with Ambassador Todd Robinson

The below excerpt is part of an interview with Todd Robinson, the US Ambassador to Guatemala, published in Nómada (in Spanish). With increasing calls for President Pérez Molina’s resignation, Ambassador Robinson has come under fire recently by Guatemalans who accuse him of helping to “prop up” a corrupt administration. The interview contemplates the role of Robinson and the US in Guatemala.

Selected questions and answers from the interview, translated to English:

Question 1: Right now, no one wants to be seen with President Otto Pérez, and you do. What message would you like to send with your appearance at the Presidential House? Aside from the issue of polygraphs.

Photo: Carlos Sebastián

A: None. The government has asked us to help with the SAT [Guatemala’s tax collection agency] and we had polygraph equipment [and technicians]. There was a team of Guatemalan businessmen who were in Washington to discuss the Alliance for Prosperity and they asked for help with several institutions from the State Department. It was a happy coincidence that we had that equipment. I don’t believe that it’s a secret that we work very closely with the government. We don’t have the luxury of choosing the Guatemalan government—it’s the decision of the Guatemalan people. And of course, because we are good partners, or want to become good partners with the Guatemalan society and the government, when they ask us for help and we can help, we’re going to do it. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: May 25-29

One Year After Violent Eviction, La Puya Under Threat Again

On May 26, almost exactly one year after police violently broke up the peaceful anti-mining blockade at La Puya, approximately 300 police officials arrived again at the site. Police officials claimed that they were responding to an allegation that members of La Puya had illegally detained several mine works — an accusation that community members say is “totally false,” and that a justice of the peace could find no evidence to substantiate.

Police threatened to evict protesters, but lacked the required eviction order to forcefully remove them. While community members have let workers in to the mine and no longer block the road, a contingent of police remain, and a new police camp has been set up on company land right across from La Puya. Read more about recent events at La Puya on our blog.

Vice President Baldetti’s Properties Raided

On May 28, Guatemalan authorities and CICIG officials raided 14 properties associated with former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, whose press secretary has been linked to the tax fraud scandal that resulted in the resignation of several top Guatemalan officials earlier this month. Baldetti resigned on May 8 due to increasing public pressure, although she denies any involvement in the scandal. Continue reading

Guatemala News Update: May 18-22

Protests Continue; Government Officials Resign Amid Corruption and Bribery Probes

On Saturday, May 16, an estimated 60,000 people gathered at the national palace in Guatemala City to denounce corruption and call for the resignation of top officials, including Otto Pérez Molina. In other regions of Guatemala, as well as in other countries, groups held simultaneous protests as part of the #RenunciaYa movement. Photos from the event are available here.

Then, on May 20, at least 15 more people were arrested in a separate fraud and bribery probe into the Guatemalan Social Security Institute (IGSS), including the central bank governor and the head of the  IGSS (who also used to be Pérez Molina’s private secretary). The investigation was also conducted jointly by Guatemalan prosecutors and the CICIG. On the same day, a large protest of campesinos took place in Guatemala City as part of the ongoing #RenunciaYa movement.

Yesterday, Pérez Molina dismissed the Guatemalan intelligence chief, as well as the ministers of the interior, environment and energy, in a move to address citizens’ calls to root our corruption. Calls for the president to also resign continue, but Pérez Molina has stated that he will serve out his term. 

Updates about the ongoing protests and political crisis will be made on our initial explainer.

Maya Q’eqchi’ seek justice in Guatemala and Canada

This in-depth article by Sandra Cuffe tells the story of the struggle of a group from Izabal to seek justice — both in Guatemala and Canada — for shooting community members protesting the Guatemala Nickel Company’s (CGN) Fenix ferro-nickel mining project. Mynor Padilla, the former head of private security for CGN (then a subsidiary of Canadian company HudBay Minerals) is currently standing trial in Guatemala for homicide and assault causing bodily harm.

A separate article also looks at the legal cases against the Guatemala Nickel Company.

The 14-year-old music prodigy who left his home in Guatemala for Los Angeles

This article, part of a series that looks at the aftermath of last summer’s “migration crisis,” details the journey of a 14-year-old Guatemalan boy from his home in Peten to the US.

Guatemala Faces Political Crisis in Wake of Tax Fraud Scandal

*This post will be updated regularly (updates at the bottom) as the crisis unfolds in Guatemala

Today, May 14, Alejandro Maldonado was named as Guatemala’s new vice president after Roxana Baldetti resigned on May 8 amid the revelation of a tax fraud scandal. Meanwhile, despite the vice president’s resignation, citizens have continued to call for the resignation of President Otto Pérez Molina and will move forward with a wave of national protests set for Saturday, May 16.

What’s going on in Guatemala?

The uncovering of a corruption scandal has set off massive protests in Guatemala. Photo by Prensa Comunitaria.

The uncovering of a corruption scandal has set off massive protests in Guatemala. Photo by Prensa Comunitaria.

The uncovering of a massive tax fraud ring in Guatemala has prompted widespread public outrage, steeping the country in what many are calling a “political crisis” as September’s general elections draw near.

On April 16, authorities arrested 22 people – including the current and former heads of Guatemala’s tax collection agency – in the culmination of an 8-month long investigation into a criminal network used to defraud the state.

The crime ring was dismantled by a joint investigation by Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office and the CICIG, and implicates officials in the highest levels of government. Although Vice President Roxana Baldetti was not directly linked to the fraud ring in the initial investigation, she was plunged into controversy when her private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, was identified as its leader. In the face of increasing public pressure, Baldetti submitted her resignation on May 8.

The criminal network has been called “La Linea,” (The Line), in reference to a certain cell phone number that businesses used to illegally negotiate the amount they were required to pay in customs taxes. Thanks to the network, businesses received a 25% “discount” on the fees when their property cleared customs; approximately 50% was paid to the state and the rest to the defrauders. Prosecutors estimate that Guatemala lost around Q940 million (US$120 million) in tax revenue to the scam, and the ongoing investigation has begun to reveal corruption that extends to the judicial branch. Continue reading

Statement by the Human Rights Convergence on the Resignation of Vice President Baldetti

On May 10, 2015, the Human Rights Convergence released a statement on the resignation of Vice President Roxana Baldetti. (Full text in Spanish available below).

On April 16, the criminal ring “La Linea,” allegedly headed by Juan Carlos Monzon — private secretary of the then vice-president Roxana Baldetti — was uncovered. The magnitude of the fraud and the organization of the ring, which profited off the state’s tax system, presumes previous knowledge and personal gain on the part of the vice-president. This knowledge prompted Guatemalan society to demand Baldetti’s resignation.

In light of these events, the Convergence wishes to express its support to those who are mobilizing to demand an end to state corruption, as well as for the ongoing work of the CICIG. The Convergence also wishes to stress the need for investigations into the integrity of the justice system, as well as the candidates for the vice-presidency.


Por la Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos

1) El 16 de abril fue el inicio del desmantelamiento de una estructura criminal que utilizó el sistema aduanero y de recaudación tributaria para esquilmar recursos del erario y enriquecerse ilícitamente. Además del jefe de la Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (SAT), así como su antecesor, la investigación identificó al militar retirado Juan Carlos Monzón, secretario privado de la vicepresidencia, como el cabecilla de la banda.

2) La magnitud de lo defraudado y el esquema funcional de la banda denominada “La Línea”, permiten inferir que la entonces vicemandataria no era ajena ni a la estructura ni a los beneficios de la misma. De allí que, desde el inicio la sociedad guatemalteca demandara la separación del cargo de la señora Baldetti Elías, a fin de facilitar la investigación y la acción judicial independiente.

3) La forma y el mecanismo en que la jueza contralora liberó mediante medida sustitutiva a los únicos cabecillas detenidos, puso de relieve que el pacto por la impunidad, suscrito entre el entorno económico-oligárquico-militar y los partidos Patriota y Libertad Democrática Renovada (Líder), daba sus frutos.

4) Desde un inicio el clamor social en diversos aspectos planteó la demanda de la renuncia, misma que fue presentada por la señora Baldetti, tres semanas después de los sucesos y luego de haber facilitado incluso, la fuga de su secretario.

5) Si no hubiese habido presión social, ningún otro sector se habría sentido obligado a requerir la renuncia hoy producida que deja al Congreso la responsabilidad de aceptarla y designar a un sustituto o sustituta de la ex vicemandataria. Así como deja en manos del sistema de justicia la oportunidad de reivindicarse y concretar el proceso de persecución penal con independencia.

6) Este proceso no habría sido posible sin dos factores fundamentales. En primer lugar, la inobjenetable investigación conducida por la Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala (CICIG), desde hace más de año y medio. En segundo lugar, la persistente, digna y masiva movilización ciudadana en todo el país, en particular en la ciudad capital.

Por todo lo anterior, la Convergencia por los Derechos Humanos:

1) Saluda la demanda ciudadana por limpiar de corrupción y corruptos al aparato de Estado en todos los niveles, así como a las muestras de resistencia.

2) Felicita la investigación y acciones de la CICIG, a la vez que manifiesta su respaldo a las diligencias que aún habrá de emprender.

3) Dadas la condiciones en las que se ha desarrollado el caso judicial contra la Red “la línea” se hace necesario que la CICIG, el Ministerio Público y el Organismo Judicial den paso a una amplia investigación de operadores de justicia implicados en casos de corrupción y procuración de impunidad y con ello la persecución penal correspondiente.

4) Demanda del Congreso de la República resolver a la brevedad la sustitución de la vicepresidenta y evaluar con detenimiento y sin arreglos bajo la mesa, las cualidades de quienes aspiren a sucederla.

5) Respalda las convocatorias sociales y ciudadanas para continuar en el reclamo de depuración del sistema político y de justicia y llama a todos los sectores a acuerpar la demanda social de renovación plena del Estado, que modifique las condiciones institucionales y legales que permiten el modelo clientelar, corrupto e impune sobre el que se basa el funcionamiento de la Red hoy puesta al descubierto.

Guatemala, 10 de mayo de 2015
II Aniversario de la condena por genocidio

Guatemala News Update: May 4-8: Vice President Baldetti Steps Down

Guatemala Vice President Steps Down Amid Customs Corruption Scandal

In the wake of increasing calls for Vice President Roxana Baldetti to step down, President Pérez Molina announced on May 8 that the vice president would resign. At a press conference, Pérez Molina called the move a “personal decision” which reflects Baldett’s willingness to comply with any required investigations into a tax fraud scandal allegedly headed by her personal secretary.

Earlier this week, Guatemala’s Supreme Court ruled that Congress could revoke Baldett’s immunity from prosecution and that adequate evidence exists to warrant a pre-trial investigation. A request was presented by congressmember Amílcar Pop for both Baldetti and President Pérez Molina, though the request to investigate Pérez Molina was denied.

Guatemala’s business association, known by its Spanish acronym CACIF, also called publicly for Baldetti’s resignation on Wednesday, threatening to consider a national strike if Baldetti did not step down.

The scandal that prompted calls for Baldett’s resignation has been deemed “La Linea,” or “The Line,” in reference to a cell phone number that businesses could call to negotiate an illegal “discount” on the required customs taxes. According to a joint investigation by the CICIG and Guatemala’s Public Prosecutor’s Office, La Linea has resulted in the loss of 800-900 million quetzales ($106-$116 million).

19 Police Officers Captured for Extrajudicial Execution

19 members of the Guatemalan National Civil Police who are implicated in a case of the extrajudicial killing of 3 people have been detained. In early August of last year, 1,600 police were mobilized in response to protests in Alta Verapaz over an agreement signed between the mining company Hidro Santa Rita and President Otto Pérez Molina. The conflict resulted in dozens of arrests and injuries, as well as the deaths of the three people cited in the case.

US Congress Voices Concerns Over Central America Aid Plan

Members of Congress, who are expected to vote this summer on Obama’s proposed $1 billion aid package to Central America, voiced concerns about the plan at a hearing last Thursday.

The main issues raised were “whether the leaders of the three countries have demonstrated enough commitment to curb corruption and address unemployment; whether the plan hits the right balance of addressing security, prosperity and governance; and whether it sufficiently addresses concerns raised about past development programs for the region.”

GHRC and other civil society organizations have also expressed urgent concerns about the proposed development plan for Central America.