Resigning is the best that Guatemala President Otto Pérez-Molina can do for his people. His government is in the midst of dissolution following the resignation of several high officials who heeded popular protests demanding the head of state to step down after he was accused of corruption. If the president was so convinced that he is innocent and that the accusations are false, he could lift his immunity to clear his name.
However, Pérez-Molina has resorted to the old plan used by other chiefs of state who have found themselves in similar situations. He has warned the private sector that he will take entrepreneurs down with him, he threatened the middle class with potential social instability should he resign, and has scared the poorer classes with the boogeyman of foreign intervention ‒ namely, from the U.S. ‒ that is purportedly supporting the movement to oust him.
This strategy is equivalent to a drowning person flailing their arms in the water. Since last Friday, Pérez-Molina is facing charges filed by the public prosecutor and the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala for illicit association, bribery and customs fraud. The charges include Pérez-Molina as well as ex-vice President Roxana Baldetti, who has been arrested. The case is known as “La Línea” (“the line,”) a mafia that stole State revenue obtained through customs. According to Attorney General Thelma Aldana, they would take nearly 50% of all taxes paid by exporters.
When the scandal broke, street protests mushroomed, companies withdrew their support, some of the president’s brothers-in-arms ‒ Pérez-Molina is a former general ‒ have declared that they want him out, and, just over the weekend, several government officials resigned. Except for his inner circle, no one seems to back his administration.
It is rumored that Pérez-Molina’s refusal to resign stems from a hope that some political technicality will exonerate him or allow for a luxurious exile. In both cases, it will be a defeat for Guatemalan democracy.
The way to reform institutions is to bring corrupt officials to justice and prosecute them to the full extent of the law. Otherwise, history will continue to repeat itself. Guatemalans deserve something better.