Mon, Jun 01, 2015 - Page 7 News List

Guatemalans march on president’s office

Bloomberg

Protesters march in Guatemala City on Saturday, demanding that Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina step down.

Photo: AP

Guatemalan protesters took to the streets for the sixth weekend in a row to demand that Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina resign following scandals that have already brought down the head of the nation’s central bank and key Cabinet members.

About 20,000 marchers arrived at Guatemala City’s National Palace on Saturday, according to estimates by local newspaper Prensa Libre.

That was fewer than the roughly 45,000 who reached the main plaza on May 16.

Protesters chanting “el pueblo unido jamas sera vencido” — the people united will never be defeated — banged drums and sang Guatemala’s national anthem.

“We are sick of the corruption. These ministers are the worst ministers we’ve ever had. We need reform,” said Alejandro Enes, a 45-year-old heart surgeon toting a sign that said: “out with the corrupt officials.”

In what he termed a symbolic act, salesman Julio Garcia, 68, wielded a toilet plunger.

Scandals have seen Bank of Guatemala President Julio Saurez indicted for fraud, former Guatemalan vice president Roxana Baldetti resign and various Cabinet members quit or fired. Civic leaders, including 1992 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Rigoberta Menchu, the country’s professional association of attorneys and the Guatemalan Center for the Defense of the Constitution called this week for Molina to follow.

“Democracy is collapsing and therefore Otto Perez Molina must resign,” Guatemalan attorneys association head Marco Sagastume told reporters this week.

Molina did not speak with reporters yesterday following a meeting with his minister of security.

The latest gathering followed one earlier this month when about 60,000 protested across the Central American nation, which has a population of 14.6 million.

The scandals have cast a pall over a US$54 billion economy that serves as a key gateway between Latin America and the US for goods, immigrants and illegal drugs.

Bordered by Mexico, Belize, Honduras and El Salvador, Guatemala’s principal exports include coffee, sugar and gold.

The crisis is paralyzing the government ahead of presidential elections planned for September. Last month alone, Molina fired or accepted the resignations of his vice president, head of the taxation department, two energy ministers, a security minister, an environment minister and the head of intelligence.

Molina, 64, has not been accused of wrongdoing. He has said he will finish his term and dismissed rumors that the elections would be scrapped.

He said he welcomed a call by the association representing the agriculture, commerce, industry and financial chambers to return public funds it said have been improperly used.

“It’s good that the different sectors want to draft proposals and want to find solutions to meet the demands of the Guatemalan population,” Molina, a former general who helped broker an end to the nation’s civil war in the 1990s, told reporters on Thursday.

“Recommendations are welcome,” he said.

“This is a job for all Guatemalans and not just the president,” Molina added.

Molina has called claims that his Cabinet is falling apart “totally false.”

Arguably the biggest blow came with the indictment on Tuesday last week of Suarez and 16 others for fraud in an investigation into a US$15 million contract for blood dialysis services issued by the Guatemalan Social Security Institute. As head of the central bank, Suarez sits on the board of the institute.

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