Editorial: Political risk never far in Guatemala – by John Cumming (Northern Miner – September 16, 2015)

The Northern Miner, first published in 1915, during the Cobalt Silver Rush, is considered Canada’s leading authority on the mining industry.

As miners active in Guatemala sit on the sidelines with furrowed brows, Guatemala has been embroiled in a political turmoil stoked by an anti-corruption drive that has led to the arrest of President Otto Perez Molina and the rise of a genial comic actor as the leading candidate to replace him.

This latest round of national instability kicked off on April 16 with the release of a report by the internationally staffed UN anti-corruption agency International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) that implicated senior government officials with organized crime — including Vice-President Roxana Baldetti, Guatemala’s first-ever female VP.

The CICIG, working with the country’s attorney general Thelma Aldana, had uncovered a scam known as “La Linea” whereby government officials accepted bribes from importers in return for reducing tariffs.

Popular outrage soon led to the peaceful assembly of tens of thousands of ordinary citizens in Guatemala City to protest government corruption — a remarkable feat for a country with a deeply rooted history of political violence, including death squads.

The vice-president was forced to resign, but the CICIG was only getting warmed up. It has since released a flurry of corruption reports, including one touching on the dubious and ultimately lethal outsourcing of dialysis services to an inexperienced Mexican firm, resulting in resignations of dozens of high-level government officials and members of opposition parties, plus at least 17 arrests on bribery-related charges.

The climax was on Aug. 21, when CICIG and Aldana’s joint investigation showed that Perez Molina and Baldetti were in fact the leaders of La Linea. Baldetti was arrested, top cabinet members resigned and a defiant Perez Molina — temporarily immune from prosecution due to his position as president — appeared on national TV declaring he would stand firm.

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