Anti-Morales Protests Rock Guatemala City
Tens of thousands took to the streets of Guatemala City on March 7 to protest government corruption and demand the resignation of various politicians including President Jimmy Morales. The protesters, organized by the indigenous Committee on Rural Development (Codeca), descended on Congress and the National Palace, waving banners to remind Morales of his campaign promise to combat corruption. TeleSUR estimates that approximately 35,000 protesters, predominantly from rural areas, participated in the demonstrations. The protesters accuse Morales of forgiving the debt of 216 companies and failing to improve corruption or insecurity. They argue that the forgiven debt could have been directed to productively addressing country-wide issues and strengthening inadequate health and education systems. The Legislative Assembly also came under fire, as protesters demanded that hundreds of officials be investigated for pocketing bribes in return for awarding lucrative road infrastructure contracts to the now-infamous Brazilian construction and engineering conglomerate Odebrecht.
Morales, a former comedian, took office in January 2016 as a political outsider, riding a wave of anti-corruption sentiment to victory with the campaign slogan: “Neither corrupt, nor a thief.” He now faces a massive outcry, unmatched in size since the historic Renuncia Ya protests, which unseated former president Otto Perez Molina in September 2015. Perez is currently in jail.
The president’s own brother and son are now under preventive arrest, charged with graft in a fraud operation that diverted money to the country’s Property Registry. Besides criticizing Morales’ failure to deliver on his campaign promise, evidenced by the persistence of corruption, demonstrators also demanded the nationalization of the electrical grid, protested the imminent restructuring of subsidies for electricity consumers, and challenged the construction of more hydroelectric dams, LatinNews reports.
“He lied to us, so he has to go,” said Estuardo Batz, one of the leaders of the march. According to a Gallup poll, Morales’ approval rating has plummeted from 71 percent to 56 percent since the investigation of his family members.
The protests have intensified following the fire in the state-owned children’s center, Hogar Seguro Virgen de la Asunción, on March 9 which killed 34 girls. Despite declaring three days of national mourning, dismissing the center’s director, calling for a full investigation, and recognizing the state’s responsibility in protecting women and children, Morales has been widely criticized for not taking preventive measures and implementing effective oversight. Demonstrators have called for justice for the children killed in the incident.
Morales’ administration, also under international scrutiny by UNICEF, the UN Office for the High Commissioner on Human Rights, and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, is under pressure to prove that it is up to the task of protecting and justly governing Guatemalan citizens. In a country whose people are fed up with government incompetence, Morales’ position is becoming ever more precarious.