Guatemalan President in Prison accused of bribery, conspiracy and fraud
Rarely in the history of Latin America political fire consumed so quickly. ‘Former General Otto Perez Molina went from being President of the Republic of Guatemala to becoming a common prisoner in just 24 hours. Moreover, the road that took him to prison was a short one. In only 14 days, Molina was accused, stripped from his immunity, obligated to resign and put in prison without delay.
In a flash process, it was enough for Congress to withdraw immunity for Perez Molina to resign. The prosecutor had asked for his arrest and the judge called him to testify, and, after a hearing in open court to the defense and the prosecution, the judge decided upon provisional detention on charges of bribery, conspiracy and tax fraud.
The dizzying machinery liquidated Perez Molina with the help of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a special prosecutor covered by the UN that has become the guarantor of legality in the Central American country.
Its research brought up a wide web of corruption in customs whose visible heads were apparently the vice president and the president. That was the trigger. But the gunpowder that prevented the judicial process from ending up in the drawer of oblivion was the public outrage. Since April, in a growing and massive street pulse that had taken the political class to the ropes, millions of Guatemalans demanded Molina’s exit.
“They know that we are aware of what politicians do,” said Damian, 34, a graphic designer, in the Plaza Mayor of Guatemala City, the epicenter of the protest, where last night hundreds of citizens gathered to celebrate the fall of the president.
In this scenario, the presidential elections that are set to take place on Sunday, have become a secondary element. The first round is seen by the public as a mere formality, with myriad candidates that are far from being those who they expect to renew Guatemala’s trust in government.
A new era that had its stellar day with the court appearance of General Perez Molina, the politician who promised to reconcile the country but who ended up uniting it against himself. The president entered the courtroom like a soldier. He sat on the bench and waited for the judge to start.
Perez Molina heard the recordings presented by the prosecution against him. Embarrassing and secret conversations gradually uncovered customs fraud that were allegedly led by former vice president and candidate for Miss Guatemala, Roxana Baldetti.
A parallel structure called the line, supported by fifty people allowed the import of goods without paying customs duties. In return, the criminal organization charged huge bribes.
The image will remain for years in the retina of Guatemalans. The whole country could watch on TV the victorious general, the determined President, who appeared as a common citizen to justice.
The man who just twelve hours ago was head of state, now saw his fate in the hands of judge Miguel Angel Galvez, the same person who had, days earlier, ordered the imprisonment of the vice president.
Perez Molina did not falter. Like a beast about to pounce, he kept his poise. “I’m here to face you up,” he said. But the battle was already lost.
The judge ordered his provisional admission to the military prison of Matamoros. The decision was celebrated in the streets.
“This is just the beginning, we must continue to clean up the country”, said Estanislao Garcia a businessman who had come with his family to the Plaza Mayor.
The wave of indignation unleashed against corruption in April achieved its objective. Saturday after Saturday, tens of thousands of citizens, armed only with their anger and the dynamite of social networks, forced the impeachment of the president.
The protesters demolished the highest wall, they captured the head of state. They made history, at least for a day. Guatemala, a country eaten away by violence and poverty, had given a civics lesson to the world.