UN probe topples Guatemala president
GUATEMALA CITY – In a series of meetings that began early this year, the United States government pressured Guatemala’s then-President Otto Perez to rid his administration of corrupt officials and to renew the mandate of a United Nations Commission charged with investigating corruption in Guatemala, according to officials with direct knowledge of the talks.
In April, Perez reluctantly approved the continued operation of the Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and in May he fired key members of his cabinet and accepted the resignation of his vice president.
On Wednesday, less than two weeks after the Commission he reauthorised accused him of corruption, Perez himself resigned from office, vowing to clear his name and accusing CICIG of prematurely condemning him.
The meetings between Perez and U.S. officials, including U.S Ambassador Todd Robinson, took place as Guatemala and other Central American nations were seeking $20 billion in U.S. aid, as part of a so-called “Alliance for Prosperity”, two sources with direct knowledge of the meetings said, and the U.S. used the lure of that aid to push Perez to act.
The Guatemalan president was a vocal proponent of the proposed assistance plan, which was conceived in 2014 as a way to stimulate regional growth and help stem a burgeoning exodus of Central American migrants fleeing violence at home. The United States had a strong interest in insuring that any aid it provided would not be diverted to corrupt officials.
“The United States insisted that the government renew CICIG’s mandate, and they said that the Alliance For Prosperity depended on it,” said one of the officials with direct knowledge of the discussions.
During talks with Perez, the U.S. ambassador explicitly urged him “to get Vice President (Roxana) Baldetti to resign” and “to rid his cabinet of those linked to corruption, but to do it in a staggered way to avoid an image of a collapsing government”, the official added.
In the months since Perez renewed CICIG’s mandate, the group’s probes have brought down a number of high-ranking officials, including the central bank president.
Perez’s own resignation came after CICIG’s commissioner and Guatemala’s attorney general publicly accused the president of directing a multi-million dollar customs fraud scheme known as ‘La Linea’ or ‘the line’, in which importers paid bribes to avoid customs duties.
Guatemalan prosecutors working with CICIG said they expect to charge the former president with illicit association, accepting bribes and customs fraud. (Reuters)