By Angelo Piro
On Thursday, September 4, the cries of the crowd encamped in front of Guatemala’s presidential palace changed from anger to triumph as they heard the news they had been hoping for: President Otto Perez Molina had been arrested for alleged corruption. Perez Molina tendered his resignation only hours after a warrant was issued for his arrest, following months of protests calling for the removal of Molina and several cabinet officials, in light of a joint investigation between Guatemala and the United Nations International Commission Against Impunity that revealed millions of dollars were siphoned from customs accounts to Perez Molina’s administration.
Perez Molina’s resignation came as a surprise to many in Guatemala, a country which has had a recent history of authoritarianism and unaccountable government. While Perez Molina insists that he is innocent, his resignation and surrender to the justice system may signal that Guatemala is now entering a new era of good governance, following other Latin American states going through similar political upheavals, such as Brazil, Argentina, Peru, and Ecuador.
Now facing an investigation of his role in the scandal, the former military negotiator and secret police captain was officially stripped of immunity by the Guatemalan Congress, opening the doors for full prosecution. In recent interviews, Perez Molina expressed that he will not go quietly, placing blame for his ouster on the United States, whom he claims put pressure on UN investigators. Perez Molina accused the U.S. for orchestrating a “soft coup” against not only his government, but also those of neighboring El Salvador and Honduras.
While Perez Molina awaits trial, the Guatemalan people must now focus their attention on electing a new president. The first round of elections took place on September 6, yet none of the candidates garnered enough votes to meet the 50 percent threshold. After the first round of votes, the current leader is Jimmy Morales, a former television comedian, in what appears to be an all-out rejection by the public of traditional politics. The next round of voting is scheduled for early October.