Guatemala's Congress on Tuesday voted unanimously to strip President Otto Pérez Molina of his immunity from prosecution over corruption charges in a case that one journalist says should ultimately lead to charging U.S. sponsors of the country's notorious massacres of Indigenous communities.
Univision reports that hundreds of people cheered the decision and set off fireworks.
A judge on Tuesday also slapped an order on Perez Molina, a graduate of the notorious School of the Americas, barring him from travel.
Xeni Jardin writes at BoingBoing that it is "[a] popular movement led by indigenous and working class people [that] brought justice to the office of the president himself, a man who belongs in prison for self-dealing, and for his part in the mass murders of entire villages full of innocents in the 1980s."
But the charges he now faces are not for those deaths. As Agence France-Presse reports: "Investigators say Perez masterminded a system in which businesses could bribe corrupt officials to clear their imports through customs at a fraction of the actual tax rate."
"In the eyes of the justice system he is now a common citizen given he no longer has immunity, and so there will be a criminal prosecution against the president," Prosecutor Thelma Aldana told a news conference Tuesday.
"Guatemala is showing that nobody is above the law, and as a result this is a message for all current and future public servants that our behavior must be subject to the constitution," Aldana said.
Speaking to AFP Wednesday, she added: "There’s a criminal case and we will go to trial, and then a verdict. In my opinion and based on what I know of the case, it will have to be a conviction."
From the New York Times:
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.
Journalist Allan Nairn, who's covered Guatemala since the 1980s, describes how the court's decision, while just related to corruption, paves the way for a fuller reckoning.
Speaking to Democracy Now! Wednesday from Guatemala City, Nairn said
Corruption has kicked open the door. Now, what could follow is mass murder, a prosecution for mass murder. Just about everyone I talk to on the street raises that issue. And under Guatemalan law, an ordinary citizen can go to a court and file a criminal case. And now that Pérez Molina has been stripped of immunity, anyone can step forward and file criminal charges against him for the slaughter in the Ixil zone in December of ’82, when slaughter that occurred, and I was there talking to Pérez Molina and talking to his—talking to his troops. So that now becomes a possibility.
And if that does happen, Nairn said that prosecutors should follow "trail of blood"—all the way to Washington:
And part of it—if that goes forward, and part of it is dependent on the action of state prosecutors—if the state prosecutors go forward, I would also urge them to look at charging not just Pérez Molina, but also his U.S. sponsors, the Americans who worked as military and intelligence liaisons with the Guatemalan army as they were murdering civilians, and also high American officials who set the policy in Washington. They can be charged as accomplices to murder. As President George W. Bush said, if you arm a terrorist, if you fund a terrorist, you are a terrorist. I think President Bush had a point, and that he should be subject to that same rule, that same principle, and that now that Guatemala has kicked open the door, set an example for the world, this trail of blood can be followed wherever it leads, including back to Washington.