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Baldetti’s Resignation Deepens Guatemalan Political Crisis

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Guatemalan VP Roxana Baldetti resigns, facing an investigation into her possible role in Caso SAT.

Guatemalan Vice President Roxana Baldetti resigned last Friday, ending a tumultuous three weeks of protests after an investigation raised questions about her possible involvement in a high-profile corruption scandal known as Caso SAT. Baldetti’s former private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón, was recently accused of organizing a corruption network targeting Guatemala´s tax collection agency—the Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria (SAT)—and is now at large.

President Otto Pérez Molina praised Baldetti’s “brave decision” in a press conference on Friday.  He said, “This was a voluntary, personal decision of the vice president.  It was thoughtful, difficult, courageous, but consistent with her principles and values.”

The vice president was facing a congressional impeachment hearing this week, after the Supreme Court unanimously ruled to send one of the four motions filed against Baldetti about her possible involvement in Caso SAT to Congress. 

Baldetti’s resignation marked the culmination of a difficult period. In March of this year, she was left on the sidelines of U.S. Vice President Joe Biden’s visit to Guatemala.  She received further scrutiny after the disappearance of Monzón, who is suspected of masterminding the SAT’s fraud. By the time Guatemala’s business elite from the Comité de Asociaciones Agrícolas, Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras (Coordinating Committee of Agriculture, Commercial, Industrial and Financial Associations—CACIF) withdrew their support for Baldetti, the writing was on the wall.  A few days later, the Conferencia Episcopal de Guatemala (Episcopal Conference of Guatemala—CEG) publically condemned fraud committed by the SAT.

Baldetti’s resignation was ratified by a rare convening of Guatemala’s Congress on Saturday.  All 149 representatives present voted in favor of the resignation.  It is particularly ironic that Guatemalan representatives united over a corruption case, given that Congress had failed to reach quorum 26 times so far in 2015 for a plenary session.

Baldetti was stripped of immunity from prosecution and now faces an investigation into her possible role in Caso SAT.  Although wiretaps presented by the Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala  (The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala—CICIG) reportedly  contained references to “The Lady”, “2” (meaning the second in charge) and “R” (possibly referring to the "R" in Baldetti’s first name), she faces more difficult questions about her possible complicity in helping Monzón escape Guatemala just before investigators swooped in to arrest him.  He has still not been found.  However, opposition political party Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (National Unity of Hope—UNE) claims to have evidence that Monzón has twice returned to his home country to discuss the case with political allies, despite the fact he remains on Interpol’s wanted list.

News of Baldetti’s resignation was met with celebrations on the streets of Guatemala City.   Congressman Amílcar Pop, who started the impeachment process, said he hoped that this was the start of an institutional cleanup.  “We must be vigilant, this does not end here,” said Pop.  “Hopefully this chamber can be fumigated and many who are here go to prison.”

To facilitate the investigation, Baldetti was placed with an order of arraigo, which means she cannot leave Guatemala.  On Monday, Baldetti broke her self-imposed silence during an interview with Radio Sonora, a station with a decidedly pro-government stance.

"This has been a difficult week with great distress and many tears. I am ready to face justice and whatever comes, I will not move from here, I’m not going to hide," said Baldetti.  “A patriot is someone who loves her country and seeks its welfare, and if she has to leave, Roxana Baldetti will leave.”

Later in the day, Pérez Molina announced his three vice presidential candidates to Congress: Adela Camacho de Torrebiarte, the head of the Presidential Commission for Police Reform, Carlos Contreras, the minister of labor and social welfare, and Adrián Zapata, the executive secretary of the Office for Rural Development.

"These are people who know how the administration acts,” said Pérez Molina.

However, the vote on the candidates was delayed on Tuesday after a constitutional issue forced Contreras to withdraw his candidacy.  Article 162 of the Guatemalan constitution prohibits candidates from holding a ministerial position for six months prior to the vote.  Oliverio García Rodas was named in Contreras' place.  Baldetti’s successor will only remain in place until January 14, 2016.

If Baldetti is charged with fraud or found to be complicit in Monzón’s flight from authorities, it would be a classic case of a wolf in sheep’s clothing, given that she headed offices that investigated governmental corruption.   These included La Comisión Nacional para la Prevención y Combate de la Defraudación Aduanera y el Contrabando (The Commission for the Prevention and Combat of Customs Defrauding and Contraband—CONACON) and La Comisión Presidencial de Coordinación de los Esfuerzos contra el Lavado de Dinero y Otros Activos y del Financiamiento del Terrorismo en Guatemala (The Presidential Commission to Coordinate Forces against Money Laundering and Other Activities and the Financing of Terrorism in Guatemala).

Where Guatemala goes from here is an open question.  Baldetti has already been offered her old job as general secretary of the Partido Patriota (Patriotic Party—PP) again, despite her assertions that she wants to remain out of the limelight.  More protests are planned for the forthcoming weeks, and as the PP found out over the weekend, popular opinion is against the governing party—so much so that national newspapers are speculating whether this is the end for the PP as a political force.

Baldetti’s resignation was an attempt to contain the political crisis, but if the public demands further housecleaning, more investigations into high-profile candidates are a possibility.  A controversial vice president has gone, but if anything, Baldetti’s resignation has only highlighted the deep divisions in the country.

*Nic Wirtz is a freelance journalist who has lived in Guatemala for the last six years. His work has been featured on the Christian Science Monitor and GlobalPost, and he is editor for the website Vozz.

Any opinions expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect those of Americas Quarterly or its publishers.
Tags: Guatemala, Roxana Baldetti, Caso SAT, corruption

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