The plot thickened yesterday in Guatemala’s corruption saga when Congress stripped Guatemalan president Otto Pérez Molina of his immunity.
Latin Correspondent brings you a three-part series explaining all you need to know about the small country in Central America making big headlines. Learn about corruption, protests and elections in Guatemala, and why you should care.
Guatemalan Congress made history on Tuesday September 1 when they voted to strip Pérez Molina of his presidential immunity, marking the first time a Guatemalan president has ever lost this political privilege.
The decision means the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, also known by its Spanish acronym CICIG, can fully investigate Pérez Molina’s alleged connection to a corruption network called “La Linea. ”
The scandal involved government officials who charged importers fees in exchange for significantly lowering import taxes. CICIG estimates La Linea had 64 members who earned a total of $328,000 a week, according the InSight Crime.
Prosecutors have accused former Vice President Roxanna Baldetti of accepting bribes in connection to the scheme. Now CICIG will be able to investigate if the still-acting president was involved.
A recent video by Spanish-language media Plaza Pública explains how the network, called “La Linea” operated.
Guatemalan citizens have taken to the streets since April to protest the corruption in La Linea scandal.
Their slogan #RenunciaYa (Resign Now) announces their biggest demand. They want Pérez Molina out of office.
“We never imagined the President and his aides were going to betray us so badly,” Vilma Hernandez told CNN on August 28.
But the protests have evolved recently. Citizens don’t just want Pérez Molina to resign. They want the candidate to replace him to be corruption-free
Guatemalans will decide the next leader of their country on September 6.
Why Guatemala matters
Guatemala is a small country in Central America about the size of the state of Virginia (U.S.) and home to 15.5 million people.
But location is key. Guatemala sits at the point of Central America’s Northern Triangle: Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Honduras has the highest murder rate in the world, and El Salvador and Guatemala are close behind at 4th and 5th worldwide.
More than 21,000 unaccompanied minors and nearly 25,000 women with children from Northern Triangle countries have been apprehended at the U.S. border from October 2014 to July 2015. Many of these migrants cross Guatemala’s border with Mexico on their journey north.
Migration from the Northern Triangle also affects Mexico and other Central American nations, which have seen an influx of migrants.
But what happens in Guatemala is important for the entire region.
Many of the issues the Guatemala currently faces- wide scale government corruption, impunity for the rich and powerful and weak democratic institutions- are issues many countries in Latin America face.
In the past year, protests have erupted in Latin America from Guatemala’s neighboring Honduras to Argentina in South America’s southern cone. Mexico’s Peña Nieto and Brazil’s Rousseff have also faced protests calling for their resignations.
Some news outlets have referred to the protests as the “Guatemalan Spring,” suggesting that #RenunciaYa is not just a battle cry for Guatemalans but for a whole region.
Check back tomorrow for more on the corruption scandal that brought CICIG into Guatemala.