Molina is Out, But Guatemala is Still Divided

Making the Right Reforms

Demonstrators hold up candles with a picture of Guatemala's President Otto Perez Molina, during a protest demanding his resignation in Guatemala City, July 4, 2015. Josue Decavele / Reuters

On September 3, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina stepped down following weeks of protests and the resignations of Vice President Roxana Baldetti and all of his cabinet. Pérez Molina and Baldetti now sit in jail, accused of running a massive customs fraud ring known as La Línea. According to investigations by the United Nations–backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, these officials were offering extremely low tariffs to importers in exchange for kickbacks.

The president’s ouster was a victory for the tens of thousands of Guatemalans who had been protesting for 20 consecutive weeks at the plaza in front of the National Palace. In spite of the peaceful and broad sampling of society that the protest brought together, however, observers should be wary of confusing the immediate victory—the resignation of the government—with unanimity on how to move the country forward. When it comes to ideology and politics, Guatemalans remain deeply divided.

Some reformers, from a broad spectrum of political leanings, saw Pérez Molina and his ilk as bad apples that had to be thrown out in order to save the political system. For these protesters, particularly those with business interests, pushing Pérez Molina out of office was a way to bring stability to a spiraling economy. They advocated swift prosecution of the officials associated with La Línea and quick national elections. The first round took place on September 6, and the second, which will determine the country’s next president, will take place on October 25. Guatemala’s influential business consortium, the Coordinating Committee of Agricultural, Commercial, Industrial, and Financial Associations (more commonly known as CACIF), and even Pérez Molina’s own political party, the Partido Patriota, disassociated themselves from the president. They hope, it seems, that his fall from grace will leave the larger political system intact while satisfying the country’s thirst for justice—not just for La Línea but also for the atrocities committed by the government during the civil

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