For months Guatemala has been rocked by government scandal. President Otto Perez is being impeached in the nation’s Congress for siphoning millions of dollars in graft through the nation’s customs authority. Other high officials have been implicated in this racket, like the former Vice-President, Roxana Baldetti, who’s now in prison awaiting trial. Much of the President’s cabinet has resigned. This criminal conduct was revealed by Guatemala’s courageous Attorney General, Thelma Aldana, and the United Nations’ Commission Against Impunity, headed by Ivan Velasquez. Nonetheless, powerful political alliances and business interests that benefit most from the corrupt status quo are maneuvering legally to protect Perez, and he insists that he’ll complete his term which ends in January 2006.
Most sectors of society, including the churches, have demanded Perez’ resignation, stronger anti-corruption laws, and major reforms in the electoral process. A nation-wide strike was held yesterday, Aug. 27, with highways blockaded across the country. A hundred thousand protesters marched in Guatemala City, plus many thousands more across the country in places like Cobán (see photo). Even transnational chains like Pollo Campero and McDonald’s closed their doors and encouraged their workers to participate. This demonstration, like others that preceded it since April, included a cross-section of social classes, and was led by student and campesino organizations. Despite the intense outrage of the population at unscrupulous officials, the clamor for change has stayed peaceful and positive so far. (I even took our kids to the protest in Cobán.) Amidst this turmoil, electoral campaigns are at full tilt, with vigorous competition for the presidency and other offices. Election Day is set for Sept. 6, but many are calling for it to be postponed, claiming that conditions are miserable for a fair election, and that the leading candidates on the ballot represent the old guard of self-serving, crooked politicians.
The depths of corruption in Guatemala, with its devastating effects on schools, healthcare, environmental protection and other public services, is outrageous. The non-violent push for change in Guatemala is inspiring and energizing, and I pray that it will persevere with God’s blessing until it prevails.