This news brief was originally published at InSight Crime.
Several top ministers in Guatemala‘s government have resigned and thousands of citizens have flooded the streets to protest recent elite efforts to institutionalize corruption, plunging the country deeper into turmoil and potentially signaling how a wave of domestic pressure could shape the outcome.
In a September 19 joint press release, Guatemala‘s ministers of labor and social services, interior and finance announced their resignations amid the “political crisis” which they say has closed off opportunities for them to address the “issues of importance” to the Guatemalan people.
The officials promised to remain in their posts until replacements are chosen, and then to continue working in another capacity for a “more just, prosperous, transparent and equitable country.” Several vice ministers have also resigned.
In the weeks prior to the resignations, congress had initiated a parliamentary procedure to examine the conduct of Interior Minister Francisco Rivas Lara, which could allow them to eventually use a “vote of no confidence” to remove him from office.
Rivas Lara has been in an embattled relationship with congress and President Jimmy Morales for months over his support for anti-corruption investigations led by the country’s Attorney General’s Office and the United Nations-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG). Those probes have reached Morales’ office, with investigators saying they have evidence the president may have accepted illicit campaign contributions, reportedly including money from a major drug trafficker.
In addition to the resignations, thousands of Guatemalan citizens took to the streets on September 20 for a “national strike” against corruption and impunity. The three main demands of the strike are the resignation of Morales, the reform of campaign finance laws and the removal of members of congress who recently voted for a controversial reform considered by many to be a “pact of impunity.”
InSight Crime Analysis
The recent resignations of top officials and the outpouring of public indignation suggest that pressure in favor of continuing anti-graft efforts will only continue to mount. If sustained, protests could even lead to the toppling of Morales, much like his predecessor Otto Pérez Molina, who stepped down in 2015 and was jailed on corruption charges soon thereafter.
“Two years ago, we saw that Guatemalan civil society can create enormous pressure when it chooses to do so,” Christine Wade, a Central America expert and political science professor at Washington College, told InSight Crime. “Whatever support Morales might have originally enjoyed as the anti-corruption, anti-establishment candidate has evaporated … I don’t think a repeat of 2015 is out of the question.”
The current domestic outrage has already forced the country’s political class to backpedal on efforts to shield themselves from corruption charges, whereas strong international condemnation failed to prevent those measures from advancing. And congress recently announced that it plans to revisit a vote from earlier this month that protected Morales’ immunity from prosecution and prevented the investigation into his campaign finances from moving forward.
This suggests that, even if Morales remains in office, public pressure will continue to have a crucial impact on how the ongoing crisis unfolds.
“I expect protests and demands for [Morales’] resignation to increase,” Wade said. “The question will be how the administration (and the military) responds to those protests.”