School of the Americas-trained Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina, who oversaw acts of torture and genocide during the country's decades-long civil war, stepped down just before midnight Wednesday disgraced by unprecedented corruption charges—and by a popular movement against impunity for the ruling elite.
Pérez Molina tendered his resignation just one day after Guatemala's Congress voted to strip him of immunity from prosecution for corruption, which includes fraud, receipt of bribe money, and a customs fraud scheme. His downfall follows that of numerous other government officials, including the country's former vice president, who is currently incarcerated as she awaits trial.
But many argue that it is the popular protest movement led by ordinary people—which some have called the "Guatemalan Spring"—that brought justice to the highest echelons of government. Adding to regular protests mounted since April, Indigenous people, workers, and students across the country staged a general strike in late August demanding the ouster of the president.
"They got him for corruption charges, but he is a war criminal."
—María Luisa Rosal, School of the Americas Watch
"The resignation is a victory for the people of Guatemala who have been on the streets, not just since April but for decades, struggling to build a counter memory to the impunity that exists in Guatemala," María Luisa Rosal, a field organizer for the rights group School of the Americas Watch, told Common Dreams.
Rosal is from Guatemala and her father was disappeared during the country's internal armed conflict in 1983. She declared: "This is the first time something like this has happened in Guatemala, a country that has been historically repressed through dictatorships and coups with U.S. backing, especially through the 36 years of internal armed conflict that ended in 1996—but also after, through free trade agreements."
La Prensa Libre reports that as news of Pérez Molina's resignation broke Thursday morning, crowds gathered in the streets in front of the judicial palace to celebrate the "triumph of the people."
Pérez Molina, for his part, told Congress in a letter that he is resigning to "face justice and resolve my personal situation."
Many from within Guatemala's protest movement say that the push for Pérez Molina's resignation is just the beginning. "It's important that our citizens continue this movement with courage and with deep maturity," Rigoberta Menchú, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and Indigenous rights campaigner who was persecuted during the civil war, recently declared.
"They got him for corruption charges, but he is a war criminal," said Rosal, who also turned her focus towards the United States.
"The United States has a historic and huge responsibility for human rights atrocities in Guatemala, not only because they trained and funded them, but there were people on the ground—CIA operatives in torture centers in Guatemala in the 1980s," said Rosal. "We need to begin holding U.S. leaders accountable for overt and covert roles in human rights violations."
The White House and U.S. embassy in Guatemala have so far remained silent on the former president's resignation.