September 1, 2015

MEXICO CITY — Guatemala’s Congress voted on Tuesday to strip President Otto Pérez Molina of his immunity from prosecution, a unanimous decision that acknowledged the outpouring of citizen demands for an end to entrenched impunity.
The 132-0 vote was the culmination of a tumultuous five months since prosecutors revealed the existence of a customs fraud ring in April, describing how officials received bribes in exchange for discounted tariffs, a scheme that effectively stole millions from the treasury.
As rain fell over Guatemala City, jubilant crowds outside Congress after the vote shouted, “Yes, we could!”
Late on Tuesday, a judge granted a request from prosecutors and ordered Mr. Pérez Molina not to leave the country.
“Justice can reach anybody” who breaks the law, said Attorney General Thelma Aldana, speaking to reporters in her office after the vote. She added, however, that “it is very painful, very worrying that a president in office should be submitted to a criminal trial.”
The case ignited a flood of protest from ordinary Guatemalans, who began staging weekly protests in Guatemala City’s central plaza, demanding the president’s resignation, although he had yet to be linked directly to the scheme.
But it was not until Aug. 21, when prosecutors announced that their evidence pointed to Mr. Pérez Molina as one of the scheme’s ringleaders, that Guatemala’s elite joined the calls for Mr. Pérez Molina to step down.
In an hourlong news conference on Monday, Mr. Pérez Molina, a retired general, angrily denied the accusations and refused to step down, adding that he would submit to due process. “I have not taken one cent from that fraudulent structure that was practically stealing from Guatemalans,” he said.
The congressional vote does not remove the president from office, and several steps remain before Mr. Pérez Molina would face trial. First, a criminal court judge must rule that he is not fit for office and that a trial should proceed. The president’s lawyers have also filed motions before the nation’s Constitutional Court that might also delay the proceedings.
But removing the president’s immunity has enormous symbolism in a country long divided by class and race …Read More