Repudiating Corruption in Guatemala: Revolution or Neoliberal Outrage?

Source: NACLA Report on the Americas

Four sustained weeks of civil protest sparked by outrage at a corruption ring in the Customs office have brought the Guatemalan government to its knees. Vice President Roxana Baldetti was forced from office amid ongoing investigations into her involvement in a customs tax evasion scheme at the Superintendéncia de Administración Tributeria (SAT). This scandal—known as La Linea in reference to a phone number used by individuals to facilitate customs tax evasion—was uncovered by a wiretap placed by the Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, (CICIG) a UN-established investigative body charged with eradicating clandestine criminal organizations infesting the Guatemalan state.

Subsequent revelations and news reports poured gas on the fire: Baldetti and Molino own giant mansions and are linked to illegal jade trafficking; key figures in the criminal network were released after bribing judges; and the existence of “bufetes de impunidad”—entire law firms that select and bribe judges for a fee. Dozens are under arrest, and Baldetti’s personal secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón, a ring leader who was caught on tape, fled the country.

Baldetti’s humiliating fall was cheered by thousands of protestors who had been carrying banners, chanting #Renunciaya! (Resign/Give up already!), circulating scathing satire on social media, and heckling candidates from traditional political parties. Emboldened by their victory, protestors continue to demand the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina, an independent investigation, and arrests. Baldetti lost legal immunity when she resigned.

This is the largest, most sustained popular protest since the “Democratic Spring” of 1944 to 1954, when the modestly redistributive agenda of an elected government was cut short by a coup. Orchestrated by Guatemalan elites and the CIA, the overthrow of President Jacobo Arbenz set the course for decades of armed conflict in which over 200,000 people were murdered. Some observers see a new democratic spring dawning in a rare alliance between the urban middle class and progressive movements forged through common revulsion at outrageous greed and impunity in the current administration. Protestors in Guy Fawkes masks and Anonymous addressing the country over social media conjures the specter of “Occupy.” Despite an initial mainstream media blackout, protesters networked over social media and broadcast their message in Mayan languages on community radio.

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