Since April, thousands of protesters have filled Guatemala City’s central plaza each Saturday to protest corruption and demand the resignation of crooked officials. But since former president Otto Perez Molina resigned in early September, crowds no longer fill the square as everyday Guatemalans have returned to their normal Saturday afternoon errands and birthday parties.
In the past six months, Guatemala has been shaken by a scandal known as “La Linea.” The customs tax fraud ring led to the resignation of former president Otto Perez Molina and vice president Roxanna Baldetti. Both are being held in prison awaiting trial for corruption charges.
Guatemalans will elect a new president on October 25. But the real question is, has anything changed?
“A lot of people are saying that Guatemala has woken up and it’s true,” said Andres Quezada, who helps run social media for the protest group (Justice Already). “But I would like to modify this a little and say that the middle urban class in the capital woke up.”
This awakening started with the formation of the group RenunciaYa (Resign Already), which organized the first protests over social media. After the resignation of key officials, the group then rebranded to form JusticiaYa. The new name symbolizes the call for greater change in Guatemala that goes beyond removing corrupt officials from office.
JusticiaYa is not the only group fighting for profound change in Guatemala. Student, indigenous and political groups have formed to take down corruption. During Guatemala’s civil war, torture and repression silenced protest groups, particularly at the country’s well respected University of San Carlos (USAC). But now students and protesters, including a newly formed group student group USAC es pueblo (USAC is the people), are not afraid to speak out.
“As a group we thought that in this moment we could achieve more profound change through the protests we had for so many months,” said Tommy Morales of USAC es Pueblo.
Upcoming elections will affect how much these protest groups can achieve. On October 25, Guatemala’s seven million voters will decide if comedian Jimmy Morales or former first lady Sandra Torres will lead the Central American country for the next four years. But neither candidate on the ballot is perfect.
Morales garnered the most support in the first round of elections but his military and business backers have raised a red flag. In 2011, Torres divorced former president Alvaro Colom to circumvent a ban on close relatives of former presidents running for office, a move that some see as an illegitimate path to the presidency.
Deciding what to do for the elections has been a point of contention for the dozens of protest groups. Some favor a null vote to show their discontent with the candidates on the ballot. Others prefer to exercise their democratic rights.
“The political system is not bad. The political system is a process that we have to be part of so that we can change it,” Morales said.