Oct 8, 2015

Oligarchy in Retreat: Guatemala’s Election

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crédito de foto:Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Source: Council on Hemispheric Affairs

Guatemala appears to be, for better or worse, entering the denouement of a climactic year for its ongoing corruption investigation, which saw its peak just weeks ago when the Guatemalan National Congress voted to strip former President Otto Perez Molina of his political immunity. Molina is now facing trial for his suspected involvement in the custom house bribery scandal known as “La Linea.” At least 28 officials within the national customs group called SAT collaborated to collect bribes in exchange for lowering the tariffs that were legally required to be levied on corporations, and included various importers, lawyers, and even a former intelligence agent. All told, the ranks of the guilty swelled to 64.1

To keep the scam from becoming too blatant, importers still paid 40 percent of what sum was expected, paid 30 percent to the corrupt officials, and pocketed the other 30 percent as savings.2 The Guatemalan people were defrauded $328,000 weekly in this scheme, or the equivalent of the minimum daily wage for 1,682 industrial laborers.3 In Guatemala nearly 53 percent of the population lives in poverty according to the World Bank, and access and funding to health services and education is lacking. It is difficult to understand why Guatemala’s political and economic elites never imagined they would be caught and punished for their abuse of power on this scale.

Today, Molina sits in a military detention facility facing charges of customs fraud, conspiracy, and bribery.4 His chances of avoiding prosecution appear slim. Former Head of Customs Claudia Azucena Méndez Asencio testified on Monday, September 21 to a meeting that took place between Molina, Carlos Enrique Muñoz the then Chief of Tax Administration, and Salvador Estuardo González—known as “Eco”—who is said to be one of the principle leaders of La Línea.5 The arrests of such high-ranking officials represents an impressive feat for the country’s popular sectors and social movements.

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