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Popular Protest, Ousters Continue in Guatemala Tax Scandal

May 2015

Outraged by a pervasive corruption scandal that implicates top government officials, tens of thousands of Guatemalans filled the streets of the capital for their fourth week to demand the resignation of President Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti. The nonviolent protestors already won the second of those resignations when Baldetti stepped down after being implicated in a massive Tax Administration corruption scandal. And yesterday, Ministers of the Interior, Environment and Security also resigned in the wake of the scandal.

As described by NACLA, this scandal—known as La Linea in reference to a phone number used by individuals to facilitate customs tax evasion—was uncovered by a wiretap placed by the Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, (CICIG) a UN-established investigative body charged with eradicating clandestine criminal organizations infesting the Guatemalan state.

The ongoing nonviolent protest is being coordinated by the Social and People’s Assembly, which includes women and men from 72 communities, ancestral authorities and organizations, including Grassroots International’s partner the Peasant Unity Committee (CUC). The massive demonstrations call for more than ouster of corrupt politicians. Protestors and human rights activists want structural transformation and an end to the corruption and impunity which have infected all state institutions and prevent efforts to overcome the poverty, exclusion, exploitation, racism and patriarchy that have characterized Guatemala for centuries.

According to the Christian Science Monitor, “The corruption scandals and resulting outrage come at a pivotal moment for President Pérez Molina and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Its mandate was set to expire in September and Pérez Molina had said he wouldn’t invite the UN Commission to stay, despite international pressure.”  Many members of Guatemala’s business and political elite resent the CICIG because of its work, which exposed a custom fraud and smuggling operation in the SAT (Superintendenc y of Tax Administration). 

The corruption scandal in the SAT represents the historic theft and looting of the Guatemalans workers, water, land, subsoil and Mother Nature. Some estimates put it at more than $120M, plus kickbacks made possible by rigged environmental impact studies and business approval for mining concessions, mega projects and service contracts.

Among those arrested are the current and former heads of Guatemala’s tax administration, the president of national newspaper SigloXXI and Baldetti’s private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón.

The Social and People’s Assembly wants to use this public scandal to call for deep transformations to the system that is oppressing the people. “We are asking for the resignation of senior officials involved, the return of all stolen resources, and that those responsible must face the full force of the law. For our part, the ancestral authorities, communities, indigenous peoples and organizations of indigenous peoples, peasant women and youth will hold a new meeting to decide what action we will take,” said Daniel Pascual Hernández, CUC General Coordinator

Movement leaders are seeking to postpone scheduled elections, reform electoral and political party laws to allow the direct participation of the social sectors and indigenous peoples, and to convene a diverse National Constituent Assembly that would be responsible for drafting a new constitution.

Among other important demands arising from the scandal are these:

  1. The immediate resignation of the President Otto Perez Molina, and confiscation of property and valuables of all of those involved in the corruption scheme. This money must be invested to combat hunger, malnutrition and to improve health, education, basic services and rural development.
  2. The investigation of the corruption networks in Guatemalan Institute for Social Security, the Ministry of Health, and Ministry of Education and in all ministries where there are signs of corruption.
  3. The names of businessman and companies that have benefited from the criminal structure on the SAT and the name of those involved in other networks of corruption. The investigation of the members of the SAT, and transparency on tax information where social and popular sectors can exercise social audits.
  4. The exit of active or retired members of the military in governmental positions. The Assembly rejects any attempt of a military coup and calls on international attention because in this crisis the government forces can be used to repress communities and peoples, for the benefit of companies that have grown under the government.
  5. The release of all political prisoners in defense of the territory, and the end of the movement repression to impose the extractive model.

The Assembly is calling Guatemalans to actively participate in denouncing, mobilizing and protesting to exercise their popular sovereignty to build a Plurinational Guatemala, and achieve social justice.

Photo: An aerial few of the protest on April 25, 2015, by AFP, Tele Sur

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