President Otto Pérez Molina, who waged a long campaign of intimidation against investigative daily elPeriódico, was forced to resign on 3 September and immediately arrested after the exposure of massive corruption throughout the government and business elite. The arrest of the former president is a landmark in a country whose history has been marked by violence, dictatorship and endemic corruption.
Repeated corruption scandals revealed by the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) – a UN-mandated body set up to promote accountability and strengthen the rule of law, with many attributes of an international prosecutor but operating under Guatemalan law in Guatemalan courts – ultimately forced the resignation of Mr Molina and dozens of senior civil servants and elected officials.
elPeriódico is considered instrumental in CICIG’s investigations, in particular for arguing that it is essential in the fight against corruption and impunity. President Molina’s government and associates systematically sought to intimidate the newspaper and its staff, in particular its founder and president Jose Ruben Zamora.
Among those forced out of office are Vice President Roxana Baldetti and Juan de Dios Rodriguez, Head of the Social Security Office and a key ally of the President, both of whom were instrumental in pressuring elPeriódico. Rodriguez filed more than 45 defamation lawsuits against Mr Zamora last year. Vice President Baldetti and Mr Molina also filed charges, including criminal charges, against elPeriodico’s founder, but dropped them under international pressure. An elPeriódico executive was also threatened with a gun by an unknown man earlier this year.
Following the revelations, numerous officials have been detained on charges of corruption and fraud, including Rodriguez, the president of the Central Bank, the President’s former private secretary and the son of a Supreme Court judge.
CICIG’s unique mandate allows it to impinge very directly into the justice system and independently investigate cases. Its revelations led to mass public demonstrations that ultimately Mr Molina was powerless to resist.
Former comedian Jimmy Morales won the subsequent Presidential election under the banner “Neither corrupt nor a thief” .
In November, Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman awarded Mr Zamora the prestigious Myrna Mack Chang Order of Human Rights for his “invaluable collaboration through independent and truthful journalism to fight for respect for human rights and democracy in the country.”