Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Petition to remove Pérez Molina's presidential immunity moves to Congress

On June 10th, Guatemala's Supreme Court unanimously voted to accept Congressman Amílcar Pop's petition to remove President Otto Pérez Molina's immunity. Pop is accusing President Molina of playing a role in the corruption scandals in the tax and health sectors, which were recently unveiled by the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) – revelations that have led to widespread protests throughout the country and calls for Molina's resignation. According to the constitution, the Supreme Court was then required to turn the file over to Congress, where five members were selected at random to form an investigative commission. The President is being accused of concealment and illicit association.

With one Congressman from CREO, one from Molina's own Partido Patriota, and three from LIDER - a party which allegedly spent the last three years making deals with the current government to stack the judiciary – the commission is now tasked with determining whether sufficient evidence exists to recommend stripping the president of his immunity. While this would not necessarily lead to an impeachment, it would allow for a full investigation and could possibly lead to the President's resignation. 

Congressman Amílcar Pop appears before the Commission.
Photo credit: Prensa Comunitaria  
The Commission's final recommendation will be voted on in Congress, with 105 of 158 votes needed to pass. Congress can also vote to invalidate the recommendation and send the process back to the commission for further consideration. There is no set time limit for making the recommendation. Although the Commission has so far moved quickly and is set to hear Pop's arguments today (Tuesday, June 16), analysts warn that the process could drag on. The President has assured the public that he has no intention of stepping down and welcomes the investigation. 

Protests in the country continue, criticizing the behind-the-scenes maneuvers by powerful economic and political actors to gain control of the crisis and thus the outcome. Chants and posters frequently seen and heard at the demonstrations denounce the intervention by the U.S. Embassy, and call for respect for autonomy as people push for real, systemic change.

A woman holds a sign that reads, "Gringos: Mind your own business."
Photo credit: Nelton Rivera, Prensa Comunitaria
On June 2nd, President Molina and U.S. Ambassador Todd Robinson announced that the U.S. would provide polygraph tests for workers at the national tax agency. This announcement, together with the stark visual of Ambassador Robinson at the presidential podium with President Molina, has been seen as a strong signal of support for the embattled President, and has become a focal point in denouncing U.S. intervention in the country.

Ambassador Robinson with President Pérez Molina in June 2015
Photo Credit: Nómada
In an interview with Nómada published on June 10th, Robinson re-stated multiple times that he is “not in charge in Guatemala.” He gave this statement in response to questions about the message the public event sent at a moment when “nobody wants to be photographed with President Otto Pérez.” Robinson emphasized that the U.S. remains committed to combating corruption in Guatemala, with the billion-dollar Alliance for Prosperity at the center of its foreign policy strategy. The Ambassador revealed that the U.S. had “one word” in the resignation of Vice-president Baldetti, but maintained that it was primarily the decision of the President and the Guatemalan government. He stated that the U.S. government “is looking forward to working with [President Pérez Molina] during the rest of his period.” 

While the Embassy remains committed to Molina, popular support throughout the country is waning. For the eighth time last Saturday, thousands of people gathered throughout the country and in Guatemala City's central square to demand Molina’s resignation. Protestors also gathered last week outside of Congress to demand a speedy response from the Commission as they deliberate their recommendation to remove or maintain immunity. 


The joint CICIG / Public Prosecutor investigation into two separate corruption rings have resulted in the resignation of Vice President Roxana Baldetti and six cabinet members. So far, 42 people, including President Molina's former personal secretary and the head of the National Bank, have been arrested. The Public Prosecutor's office has carried out searches in three of the properties owned by former Vice President Roxana Baldetti under suspicion of illegal enrichment due to involvement in the La Linea customs scandal.

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