Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina has resigned shortly after Congress stripped his immunity and a judge issued a warrant for his arrest. This marks a huge stride for a country plagued by corruption and impunity for decades.
In part two of Latin Correspondent’s three-part series, we will take you through the history of murder, fraud and corruption in Guatemala. Beware: These juicy details might make you yawn with boredom at Pérez Molina’s La Linea scandal.
Murder or suicide?
No political scandal in Guatemala has been quite so outrageous as the corruption and murder conspiracy allegations against former president Alvaro Colom.
The accusations against Pérez Molina’s predecessor were fabricated, but the true story is even more bizarre than the allegations.
In May 2009, Guatemalan lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg was murdered in Guatemala City. At first, his death seemed not unlike the thousands of murders each year in Guatemala.
But at his funeral, a close friend released a video that Rosenberg had recorded before he died. The lawyer had left instructions to distribute the video in the case of his death. Rosenberg alleged that President Alvaro Colom, and other high members of his cabinet, had conspired to kill him.
They wanted to kill him, Rosenberg said, because he knew too much about an embezzlement scandal involving BanRural, a government-run bank. Rosenberg discovered this information while investigating the death of businessman Khalil Musa and his daughter Marjorie Musa. Rosenberg and Marjorie Musa had a romantic relationship when she was killed.
For weeks, Colom faced protests not unlike the ones Pérez Molina faced for months before his resignation.
U.S. Ambassador Stephen McFarland presented Colom with a way to ease the public’s doubt of the president’s innocence. McFarland advised Colom to turn over the investigation to an international body. An internal investigation would only raise suspicions of government tampering.
Colom then referred the case to the U.N.-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG.
If this name sounds familiar, it’s because this is the same organization that exposed La Linea.
The CICIG investigation found that Rosenberg orchestrated his own murder in an attempt to set up the president.
In the end, Colom’s hands were clean. But the case gave CICIG an entry point for investigating corruption in Guatemala. When CICIG exposed La Linea, Rosenberg’s plan to “help get the country started down a new path” may have actually come to fruition six years later.
Guatemala’s recent democratic history
In 1996, Guatemala’s Civil War ended with a peace agreement. This marked the end of a time of fear and repression. Many Latin American countries, including Argentina, Chile and Uruguay, experienced cruel dictatorships during the same period.
But Guatemala’s civil war was longer and bloodier than most conflicts in the region. It lasted 36 years and left an estimated 200,000 Guatemalans dead, mostly the Mayan indigenous population. To put that into perspective, Augusto Pinochet ruled in Chile for 17 years and killed 3,000 Chileans while in power.
So even with the 1996 Peace Accords, Guatemala had some major wounds to heal and institutions to mend.
But the people responsible for terror during the Civil War remained influential in the country. As Vox Media explained, “the people who had fought Guatemala’s genocidal dirty war didn’t go to jail — they went straight to the bank.”
The two decades following the accords saw a string of murder and corruption cases: The murder of human rights campaigner Bishop Juan Gerardi in 1998, the resurgence of deaths squads in the early 2000s, the murder of three politicians from El Salvador and their driver in 2007, embezzlement charges against former president Alfonso Portillo in 2008, the Rosenberg video in 2009.
And with Pérez Molina and La Linea, the list goes on.
Check back tomorrow for more on the future of Guatemala and the candidates who could soon be running the country.