News You Really Need To See: “Guatemala Votes to Strip Its President of Immunity”

“Guatemala Votes to Strip Its President of Immunity”

The New York Times, September 1, 2015

In a sweeping rejection of entrenched corruption, Guatemala’s Congress voted on Tuesday to strip President Otto Pérez Molina of his immunity from prosecution, a unanimous decision that acknowledged the outpouring of citizen demands for an end to impunity.  The 132-0 vote was the culmination of a tumultuous five months since prosecutors revealed the existence of the ring in April, describing how officials received bribes in exchange for discounted tariffs, a scheme that effectively stole millions from the treasury. … On Thursday, many of the country’s businesses joined a general strike as an estimated 100,000 protesters massed outside the presidential palace calling for Mr. Pérez Molina to step down after the Supreme Court ruled that Congress could consider taking away his immunity. … The congressional vote does not remove the president from office, and several steps remain before Mr. Pérez Molina would face trial.  First, a criminal court judge must rule that Mr. Pérez Molina is not fit for office and that a trial should proceed.  Before that, the nation’s constitutional court must rule on two motions filed by the president’s lawyers.  But removing the president’s immunity has enormous symbolism in a country long divided by class and race and where impunity for the powerful was the rule in a system fueled by corruption. … Many watching the events over the past months argue that they mark a broader change in Guatemala, signaling an end to a sense of powerlessness over government corruption.”

Quickie analysis:  Given the president’s term expires in January, the real test will be whether the popular anticorruption drive can carry over into the new administration.  Nevertheless, Guatemala is moving in the right direction.

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