The president must go!
Guatemala City’s central plaza took on a festive atmosphere on 16 May, when tens of thousands of people hit the streets to protest against corruption and demand the president’s resignation. Thousands more participated in rallies and marches throughout the country.
A corruption scandal is currently rocking the Central American nation, which has a population of 16 million. On 16 April, prosecutors cracked down on a criminal network which had been defrauding the state of customs revenue from within the National Tax Office.
High-level government officials and high-profile lawyers were among the more than 20 people arrested and charged as a result of an 8-month investigation by the UN International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala and the Office of the Public Prosecutor.
The suspected ringleader of the network, now a fugitive, was the private secretary of then Vice-President Roxana Baldetti, and wiretap evidence has led to widespread speculation that Baldetti and potentially also President Otto Pérez Molina were directly involved.
Baldetti resigned on 8 May and a new Vice-President was sworn in on 14 May, but a diffuse and diverse people’s movement against corruption continues to grow, demanding justice and lasting change.
Demonstrators are increasingly addressing issues ranging from electoral legislation to energy nationalization, but their unifying demand remains Pérez Molina’s resignation.
An estimated 60,000 people attended the 16 May protest in Guatemala City. Marches from different points in the city converged downtown in the main square.
A woman holds a sign representing some of the protesters’ principal demands: ‘Justice!’ for former Vice-President Roxana Baldetti; ‘Resign!’ for President Otto Pérez Molina; and ‘Not Your Turn!’ for Manuel Baldizón, a play on one of the slogans of the LIDER Party's presidential candidate. General elections are scheduled for 6 September.
Students and young people carried beautifully painted banners with messages against corruption, femicide, transnational corporations, and the ties between politicians and acts of genocide carried out on Mayan civilians during the 36-year armed conflict (which ran from 1960 to 1996).
President Otto Pérez Molina is a retired General who served in the army’s special forces, and later as Director of Military Intelligence. This banner reads: ‘If There Is No Justice For The People, Let There Be No Peace For The Government.’
‘They Robbed Us!’ proclaims a sign held by a human statue along the main pedestrian thoroughfare downtown, while demonstrators passed him on their way towards the central plaza. The sign is part of a series highlighting what revenues lost due to the criminal network could have financed.
Led by traditional musicians, a delegation from Waqib’ Kej, a Mayan coalition, arrived at the plaza. In the background, a sign in front of the national palace reads: ‘Palace of Thieves.’
During Efraín Ríos Montt’s military rule in the early 1980s, the palace housed the headquarters of secret tribunals that sentenced suspected leftists to death. Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity in May 2013, but the ruling was overturned. A retrial was suspended in January 2015.
Students defending the right to bilingual education arrived at the plaza. More than half of the country’s population is Mayan. More than 20 Mayan languages are still spoken in Guatemala.
University of San Carlos students electrified the crowd with their chants, as one of the marches traversed the city centre. Students from various universities marched from different points in the city, converging in the central plaza.
LGBT and feminist movements were present at the 16 May protest, demanding social justice and the president’s resignation.
Pérez Molina has repeatedly stated that he will not resign, but protests show no signs of letting up.
Help us keep this site free for all
New Internationalist is a lifeline for activists, campaigners and readers who value independent journalism. Please support us with a small recurring donation so we can keep it free to read online.