Since September 15, 2017, protests have flared up throughout Guatemala surrounding its embattled president Jimmy Morales. Morales, a former comedian, who ran on an anti-corruption platform after his predecessor Perez Molina was convicted for his involvement in a criminal syndicate, is now under investigation himself.
Allegations regarding Morales’s involvement in a money laundering scandal began to crop up in mid-August. The allegations come from The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), an anti-corruption body working in conjunction with the U.N. The CICIG, set up during the years of the rampant corruption of the early 2000’s, is seen throughout the country as one of the few strong unbiased institutions in the Central American nation.
When asked about the allegations, Mr. Morales attempted to declare the head of the CICIG a person non grata (a foreign person for whom entering or remaining in a particular country is prohibited by that country’s government), requesting that he leave immediately. When Morales’s foreign minister refused to sign off on the order, he promptly sacked him to find a more compliant minister. Though the new minister was willing to sign off, the Supreme Court eventually placed a temporary injunction on the order.
In response to this bold stroke to undercut the investigation, the U.N. backed body pressed Congress to vote to remove the president’s immunity from investigation. The vote took place on September 12, but the president survived by a wide margin. This vote in addition to his undercut of the U.N. body has led to sagging poll numbers.
In addition to voting to protect the president the first time, Congress also voted to roll back aspects of the investigation and to keep his immunity (by a smaller margin). These actions have invoked widespread anger among Guatemalan citizens, who have come out in large numbers to show their disapproval. In addition, Congress’s actions have invoked a very negative response from the U.S. who has long backed the anti-corruption commission.
The president, in addition to laundering money, has also received flack for accepting his previous military salary, going against the precedent set by former leaders who refused to accept this added money. He has since bowed to public pressure and returned the money, but it has simply added more fuel to the fire.
At this point, it remains unknown whether Congress will bow to internal and external pressures and allow the investigation to continue. For many politicians, the wide net caused by the CICIG has caused staunch resistance. Hopefully, for those involved, the protests will remain peaceful rather than resorting to violence.