Guatemala’s Disgraced Former President Could Be Replaced by a Comedian


Situation breakdown

As previously reported, Guatemala’s government officials are thought to be the ringleaders of a graft network called ‘La Linea’. Former Vice President Roxana Baldetti was arrested last month, and charges were brought against her. President Otto Perez Molina had immunity from prosecution and at first refused to resign from his position in order to avoid arrest. More recently, however, he has been ordered to spend three months in jail pending investigation into the case.

The disgraced former President.

The disgraced former President.

What’s happening now?

Judge Miguel Angel Galvez is presiding over the case. He is also the driving force behind the arrest, which occurred mere hours after Molina’s official resignation on September 2. The judge determined that there is sufficient evidence to link Molina to La Linea, and commented yesterday: “The order of preventive detention has been issued due to the danger of interference with the truth.” He also reportedly acknowledged that several people in the case are still at large, and has suggested that it’s possible that Molina might find ways to purposefully slow the investigation.

It is said that in the courtroom on 3 September, Molina maintained an image of composure and calm, as prosecutors played the wiretap recordings that are believed to be crucial evidence in the case. He even took notes as over six hours of recordings played. Allegedly, the scheme collected $3.8M (USD) in bribes between May 2014 and April 2015, with  Molina pocketing $800,000 himself. Unsurprisingly, Molina has maintained his innocence, and has protested that he is being prosecuted on rumors and hearsay. In court, the former President commented:  “Your honour, I am not going to risk my dignity, my work, nor all the effort I have made for Guatemala in return for $800,000.”

According to the New York Times, when Molina left the courtroom, he stayed composed even as he passed a cell block replete with accused gang members who threw up gang signs and initiated catcalls, whistles, and threats. A jubilant crowd also gathered outside the courtroom with plenty of confetti, masks and whistles  to celebrate the fact that Molina is finally facing authorities.

Former Vice President Alejandro Maldonado being sworn in as President.  From: Bloomberg

Former Vice President Alejandro Maldonado being sworn in as President.
From: Bloomberg

What’s next?

Molina has been sent to Matamoros prison, which is at the military base in the capital city. Alejandro Maldonado stepped in as Vice President when Baldetti stepped down, and was sworn in as interim President on Thursday afternoon. Maldonado reportedly demanded that all top government officials resign, despite the fact that most have already stepped down in a move to retaliate against the scandal. His term will end in January, when the results of the elections are finalised. Comic actor Jimmy Morales unexpectedly took the first round of the vote on Sunday but with only 24% of the total vote, and so did not obtain enough support to avoid the upcoming face-off on October 25th  against either former first lady Sandra Torres, or conservative businessman Manuel Baldizón.  Because Torres only received 2,000 votes more than Baldizón, there will most likely be a partial recount. Indeed, sociologist and consultant Bernardo Arévalo commented: “This fight will end in the courts”.

Morales reportedly campaigned as a political outsider, with the slogan: “Neither corrupt nor a thief”. Indeed, he had barely registered in the polls before the scandal. In an interview on Saturday, he commented: “My main priority is to fight corruption. If we don’t restore the morality in the government, nothing else can work.” People have been comparing the fight to presidency between Morales and Baldizón to the battle of David and Goliath, with Morales as the underdog – he only spent a paltry $48,000 (USD) on his campaign, compared to Baldizón’s extravagant expenditure of $5.3M (USD). Morales’ win might have something to do with the fact that Baldizón had been a huge supporter of Molina even days before his resignation, and the country wants a clean government. Indeed, Leonel Sanchez, a private auditor, commented on Sunday:  “We don’t trust politicians. This fight [for a clean government]will have to go on, regardless of who wins today.”

The fact that the citizens of Guatemala appear so eager to appoint a ‘political virgin’ is directly reflective of the high level of social and political discord within the country. Morales has asserted that were he to be elected, he would make public contracts transparent and hold a referendum to overhaul Guatemala’s electoral laws. However, it cannot be denied that he is indeed very green. Critics have indicated that he lacks a real plan and look down upon his idea to give every child in the country a smartphone. Enrique “Quique” Godoy, an economist and well-known journalist, specifically said: “His program is vague and naive. He didn’t expect to be in a position to win the presidency.”

On the other hand, it is more worrying that both Baldizón’s and Torres’ parties have allegedly contravened campaign-financing rules. Furthermore, Torres and several party lawmakers have been accused by the U.N. commission and local prosecutors of involvement in another fraud ring. All have denied involvement.

Either way, Molina is the first president in Guatemalan history to resign over a corruption scandal, despite the fact that the government has long been considered corrupt. The Guatemalan government has indeed been put in the spotlight as a result of the arrests, and perhaps this will put pressure on other South American political systems to watch their step.

Comedian Jimmy Morales casting his vote in Mixco on Sunday.

Comedian Jimmy Morales casting his vote in Mexico on Sunday.


About Author

Rebecca Loeb

Rebecca is a graduate in English Literature, with both a B.A. and M.A. in the subject. She enjoys writing on issues in modern culture, particularly about controversial political situations and artistic endeavours in emerging market countries.

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