The Prosecutor’s Office and the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) have accused President Otto Pérez Molina of masterminding the scheme and made a formal request to strip him of the immunity that protects him from prosecution.
Popular outrage is growing, and there are several prominent voices calling for Pérez’s head. However, the president has assured that he will remain in office until the end of his term on January 14. While the media spotlight currently remains on the president, the issues facing the country go well beyond Pérez Molina.
Guatemalan society is in a state of shock. While public opinion strongly condemns corruption — which, of course, is not exclusive to the nation’s customs agency — political parties are preparing for the upcoming general election scheduled for September 6.
Within this climate of uncertainty, the hope for a complete overhaul of the political landscape is growing, along with fears about what may happen in the immediate future.
Much of this anxiety stems from the fact that several people have proposed the country suspend the election, appoint a provisional government, and proceed to enact new laws or change the constitution through a Constituent Assembly.
Various small, diverse groups are now supporting this move as a potential solution, including electoral candidates who are struggling at the polls, individuals who seek to create a new institutional framework from scratch, and, as usual, radical socialists who seek power by any means.
The latter, like in other parts of Latin America, are trying to create a climate of instability and confrontation, in order to usher in a government of intellectuals who serve their interests. They are joined by those who think that Guatemala is in no condition to carry out elections unless the system is changed first.
They believe — naively and dangerously — in a transitional government that would create the basis for a genuine rule of law.
These strategies rightfully raise fears in a large segment of the population: to suspend the election just days before the polls are scheduled to open would be an obviously unconstitutional and very undemocratic measure. It would open the door for interest groups to demand that a provisional government be formed.
Who gets to choose these new rulers who, under the circumstances, could very well impose a de facto dictatorship? Who would be able to control them once the constitution has been discarded? Is it possible to strengthen a country’s institutions by openly defying them?
Every public-opinion poll in the country shows that a majority of Guatemalans still want to cast their votes on September 6. They want to choose for themselves, and exercise their right to decide the country’s destiny.
Although several candidates have been involved in corruption and demagoguery, many others offer hope for a more transparent, honest, and positive administration.
A political system cannot be transformed overnight, and certainly not Guatemala’s complex government structure, whose operational machinery is currently almost completely adrift. It is the people, alert and determined to weed out corruption, who must define the country’s course — not a handful of supposedly “enlightened” individuals.
With their votes, Guatemalans have the opportunity to capitalize on the widespread discontent and force newly elected officials to adopt a new course. That is why hope for Guatemala rests in the upcoming election.
In a few days, we will find out if the country has chosen wisely, defeating the populists who offer nothing new, and setting Guatemala down the path of institutional reform that she so desperately needs.