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News > Latin America

Anti-Corruption Protests Take Over Guatemala City

  • Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales outside the Congress in Guatemala City, Guatemala September 11, 2018

    Demonstrators shout slogans during a protest against Guatemala's President Jimmy Morales outside the Congress in Guatemala City, Guatemala September 11, 2018 | Photo: Reuters

Published 12 September 2018

For a second day, thousands march in the capital to demand President Morales and Congress resign, saying they are giving themselves legal impunity.

Thousands of Guatemalans are again protesting in the capital demanding the resignation of President Jimmy Morales and the extension of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) mandate.

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People are once again marching in the streets of Guatemala City insisting that President Morales resign for his alleged connections to corruption schemes. They are also demanding the reinstatement of CICIG, the United Nations-backed anti-corruption commission formed in 2006.

Demonstrators held signs reading that President Morales and all members of Congress should resign for granting themselves immunity.

On Sept. 5, the Guatemalan government issued an order for all airlines to bar the CICIG director, Ivan Velasquez, from boarding any plane with Guatemala as a destination saying the Colombian lawyer posed a national security threat. The move followed Morales’ Aug. 31 decision to not re-up the CICIG mandate, which expires in 2019.

CICIG and several anti-corruption state agencies announced in 2017 that they found strong evidence that Morales had received illicit campaign funds of up to US$1 million from private businesses for his 2015 election. Their investigations also link Morales and many of his close associates, including his brother and his son, to widespread embezzlement rings.

In September 2017, Congress voted to grant the president prosecutorial immunity, but the measure was revoked, after a third attempt, days before a congressional committee was formed in late August of this year to investigate the president’s potential illicit campaign financing.

On Tuesday, scores of mainly university students, gathered outside of Congress to protest Initiative 5300, which would amend the national Penal Code to give dignitaries and public functionaries prosecutorial immunity.

Secretary-General of the Association of University Students (AEU), Lenina Garcia, said of the initiative: "This (amendment) is very harmful to us as a population because it would give Congress powers that do not belong to it and could be a setback in the fight against corruption and impunity.”

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Morales says the measure is protecting the country’s sovereignty.

“It is clear we are facing a clear plan by Congress to generate mechanisms of impunity,” said Oswaldo Samayoa, a criminal law professor at Guatemala’s San Carlos University told Reuters.

Congress will not meet Wednesday citing the fact that some members couldn’t leave the building on Tuesday because of protests. It will resume session Thursday.

The Campesino Development Committee (Codeca), National Coordinator of Campesino Organizations (CNOC), and over a dozen other Indigenous and Campesino organizations are also demanding that Congress not pass pro-GMO legislation.

On Tuesday and Monday, thousands of Indigenous communities blocked roads west of the capital denouncing the president and Congress.

"We are here and we will not leave," said Andrea Ixchu a Kiche Maya. Others held up signs with messages like, "No to corruption, stop now," and "Jimmy, you're fired."

According to the latest National Survey of Living Conditions (Encovi) as of 2014, over 59 percent of the population in Guatemala was in poverty, an increase of 3 percent since 2000.  Citizens Action says that Guatemala ranks 143rd out of 180 in terms of its ability to deal with corruption.

Morales had run on an anti-corruption platform after his predecessor, Otto Perez, was ousted on corruption charges brought forth by CICIG.

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