Recent news headlines in Guatemala have been dominated by the dramatic implosion of the ruling Patriot Party (Partido Patriota), which came to power on an “iron fist” law and order platform. On April 16, days before the launch of the general election season, the United Nations International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) ordered the arrest of PP political appointees running the nation’s tax and customs agencies, as well as the personal secretary of the Vice-President, Roxana Baldetti (see photo). They were charged with running a crime racket that embezzled over $100 million in tax revenues. Adding to the scandal, a judge quickly granted bail to the accused, and the VP’s secretary fled, becoming an international fugitive. Although the VP wasn’t formally charged, because of this and other controversial incidents she became the symbol of abuse of political power.
A few days later, the PP’s presidential candidate, Alejandro Sinibaldi, dropped out of the race and quit the party. Afterward, a steady stream of other PP elected officials began to abandon the PP. The government’s credibility crisis Ignited student marches and large, non-violent protests by ordinary citizens. Campesinos organized road blockades across the country. They all demanded the resignations of Baldetti, President Otto Perez, and an end to the government’s standard corruption. Prayer vigils were held in the Central Square by Protestant church leaders, including numerous Presbyterians, while Catholic bishops and business leaders issued pronouncements against the VP. Congress voted to remove her immunity and conduct its own criminal investigation. Soon a national consensus was reached that Baldetti had to go.
After weeks of hiding, the VP finally turned in her resignation on May 8 to the glee of Guatemalans. Authorities have forbidden her from leaving the country. Furthermore, the CICIG charged the judge who released the accused tax racketeers with taking bribes from their lawyers, who were in turn arrested. Also, formal investigations were ordered by the Congress against the heads of the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Energy and Mining, and Ministry of Social Development, all PP appointees. Protesters don’t seem to be satisfied, demanding deeper, more lasting changes, and still pushing for the president to step down too. Political campaigns are intensifying as September 6 nation-wide elections loom on the horizon. While Guatemalans are feeling exhilarated at their rediscovered ability to make change, many are also dismayed that the leading presidential contenders seem to fit the same mold of dirty, greedy politics.
A note to mission partners with the IENPG: challenges to Guatemala’s political status quo haven’t posed any safety risks to mission groups and projects. Demonstrations have been positive in nature and directed specifically at the systemic crookedness of Guatemala’s ruling class. Psalm 72:2 says, “May the king judge your people with righteousness and your poor with justice.” Please keep this nation in prayer, so that resistance to entrenched corruption and impunity will continue to stay peaceful and successful.