Guatemalan authorities are searching for and arresting 33 elected officials and government workers involved in a widespread corruption scandal, just as thousands of protesters march to the capital.
The Guatemalan Anti-Impunity Council (FECI) along with the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) announced early Tuesday morning that officials have search warrants for 33 officials, 29 in Quetzaltenango, involved in a 12-year corruption scandal based west of Guatemala City.
So far, on Tuesday, the national police have arrested 16 current and former elected and government officials, including the former mayor of Quetzaltenango, Jorge Rolando Barrientos Pellecer, in connection to a 12-year running corruption scandal that involved him receiving thousands of dollars in kickbacks and campaign donations between 2003 and 2015. Several city council members were also involved in the scheme.
Also on Tuesday, thousands of protesters blocked several major highways in the area around Totonicapan, north of Quetzaltenango, to support CICIG and its anti-corruption mandate, and demanding the overthrow of current President Jimmy Morales. Demonstrators from several Campesino and Indigenous organizations say they reject Morales’ decision to ban members of CICIG, including its director, Colombian Ivan Velasquez, from entering the country.
On Sept. 5 the Guatemalan government issued an order to all airlines barring Velasquez from boarding any plane with Guatemala as a destination saying the Colombian lawyer posed a national security threat. He has vowed to maintain his decree.
A massive demonstration is scheduled for Wednesday where three Campesino organizations; Campesino Development Committee (CODECA), Committee of Campesino Unity (CUC) and the National Coordinator of Campesino Organizations (CNOC), will converge on Congress in Guatemala City to demand Morales' resignation and for deputies to not approve the president’s proposal to transfer CICIG investigations and authority to national institutions.
Morales announced his decision to revoke CICIG on Aug. 31 just two days after a five-member congressional committee was formed to investigate the president’s potential illicit campaign financing. The president’s move incited peaceful protests from a broad cross-section of the country's social and political movements along with regular citizens in Guatemala City against the president’s far-reaching move. They are banding together under the hashtag, #fuerajimmy (get out Jimmy).
Just days before the congressional committee was formed, in a third attempt, Congress voted to revoke the president’s prosecutorial immunity that legislators granted him one year ago.
For the past year President Morales has been trying to keep Velasquez out of the country and to terminate CICIG’s permanent mandate, but his efforts were thwarted by the Constitutional Court.
CICIG and several state agencies announced in 2017 that they found strong evidence that Morales had received illicit campaign funds from private businesses for his 2015 election.
Investigations by CICIG have also implicated Morales and many of his close associates, including his brother and his son in cases of corruption.
The CICIG was created in 2006 by the U.N. to investigate widespread high-level corruption within Guatemala.