Guatemalan citizens force president's resignation; elections set for Sunday

What started out as small investigations and citizen protests has led to the resignation of Guatemala´s president and the start of corruption trials in developments unprecedented within Latin America that may inspire similar actions in other countries, an expert said.

“(Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina) did not resign out of his free will. It was the product of a citizen movement and the coming to light of a corruption network brought to justice by prosecutors," Ruben Hidalgo, director of the Central American Institute of Political Studies (INCEP) told Latin Business Daily from Guatemala. "It started like a snowball and ended like a toppled house of cards."

Hidalgo spoke Thursday after Perez Molina resigned Wednesday and a few hours before the country's vice president, Alejandro Maldonado, was set to be sworn as president. Maldonado has been vice president since May, when former vice president Roxana Baldetti also was forced to resign due to corruption charges.

Perez Molina was set to face authorities Thursday over charges including participating in a network of corruption and tax evasion in addition to failing to fulfill his duties as president. It was not known early Thursday if he would face prison.

“Guatemala is giving a lesson about respect to institutions,” Hidalgo said. "It is an unprecedented action, an implosion of a system not just in the country but also in a region in which for decades those in government have managed to get away with acts that ranged from nepotism to participation in organized crime. It fulfills the will of citizens and conforms to law," he said.

On Sunday, Guatemalans will vote to elect new government officials including a president, legislators and a set of other authorities who will rule from 2016-2019. Perez Molina had been scheduled to remain in government until January.

The situation that Guatemala faced was neither new nor unique to the country.

“South of the United States, we have justice systems that are weak and in many cases subject to political influences and many interests,” Hidalgo said.

In the case of Guatemala, one of the smallest Latin American countries, the change was the result of a “combination of formulas that were maturing over time” and could be traced back to efforts that started in 2007 to create a stronger and more independent judiciary, he said.

“One could say that the Guatemala experience is leading to justice demands both in El Salvador and Honduras. There are calls in those countries to investigate probable connections between the political system” and the criminal world, he said.

“This is an invitation to Latin America so that its citizens can unite to demand authorities to work for the welfare of all and not for their own enrichment,” Hidalgo said.