In late September, more than two hundred thousand people marched through the streets of Guatemala City demanding a full investigation and prosecution of alleged corruption tied to Guatemala’s President Jimmy Morales.
Most of them had been there before, in 2015, demanding, and eventually getting, the resignation of President Otto Perez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti for alleged corruption. Perez and Baldetti are presently being prosecuted by a team led by members of an international tribunal sent by the UN to help clean up corruption in Guatemala.
It was in the wake of those resignations that Jimmy Morales –a TV comedian — won the Presidency based on his widely-trumpeted claim that he was “neither corrupt nor a thief.”
But the same international team prosecuting ex-President Perez says they have evidence that some $825,000 in unexplained contributions wound up in Morales’ 2015 Presidential campaign treasury. Morales says he knows nothing about it.
Earlier this year, prosecutors criticized Morales for taking $62,000 in “bonus” payments from the Guatemalan military, with whom the President is close. Morales gave the money back, but most analysts say, his most important backer remains the Army.
His most important antagonists remain local prosecutors backed by the UN anti-corruption organization CICIG and the growing number of people who are now protesting against him.
As ever in Guatemala, the struggle continues. And if political honesty and human and civil rights often seem far away, a remarkable number of citizens, in the capitol city and in the rural areas have not given up the fight.
Pamela Yates is a co-founder and current creative director of Skylight, a media company dedicated to creating feature length documentary films and digital media tools that advance awareness of human rights and the quest for justice.
Since the early 1980s, the struggle in Guatemala has been the subject of a series of remarkable documentaries by Pamela Yates. The first, When the Mountains Tremble, focused on Rigoberta Menchu, the indigenous woman who became the Guatemalan champion of human rights for native peoples and for women. The film undoubtedly helped Menchu win the Nobel Prize for Peace.
Yates’ second Guatemala film, Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, did nail the Army Commander and former President Efrain Rios Montt, helping reveal evidence that would be used to convict him for genocide, for his scorched earth attacks on indigenous communities in rural Guatemala. The concluding film of the trilogy, 500 Years, debuted in January at the Sundance Film Festival.