After months of peaceful protests, Guatemalans celebrated this week at the news that President Otto Perez Molina had resigned and was then jailed in connection with a customs corruption scandal that involved other officials from his administration, including the vice president.
Perez Molina’s resignation comes as Guatemalan voters prepare to go to the polls Sunday in a previously scheduled election to select a new president. Perez Molina had not been eligible to run for a new term.
Los Angeles is home to more than 250,000 Guatemalans, the largest segment of the population outside their homeland. Many, like Wilson De La Rivera, who works at a shop across the street from MacArthur Park, said they were hopeful about what this week’s events could mean for their homeland.
“I’m happy the country rose up,” said De La Rivera, 38. “I feel very proud.”
De La Riva said he migrated from Guatemala to the U.S. in the late ‘90s, at a time when his country was mired in corruption, violence and poverty.
“I hope all this will be for the betterment of the country,” he said.
Perez Molina stepped down after an arrest warrant was issued against him late Wednesday in connection with his alleged role in a scandal that saw officials take kickbacks for reducing import taxes for companies. The 64-year-old general has denied the charges.
Perez Molina’s resignation followed months of widespread protests in Guatemala over the issue of corruption.
At a Guatemalan restaurant in MacArthur Park, Jesus Aguirre, 52, who migrated to the U.S. in 1988, said Perez Molina was “still innocent until proven guilty.”
“If it turns out that the charges are true,” Aguirre said, “then by all means, punish him.”
Aguirre said the corruption in Guatemala is no different than other Latin American countries that have been plagued by similar issues.
“I do like that the demonstrations were done peacefully,” he said. “It shows there’s no need for violence.”
Several miles away, near the Guatemalan consulate, Norma Turcios, 37, said she heard about the president’s resignation through social media.
“I was shocked,” Turcios said. “I thought he wasn’t going to do it given that the elections are going to be held this Sunday.”
Tucios said relatives kept her updated on the latest news over the scandal through Facebook. She said when the president finally stepped down, her family was ecstatic, celebrating from Thursday night through Friday morning.
“It meant so much to them because they had participated in some of the marches,” she said. “I was very happy because all of this is pretty historic.”
Turcios hopes that the case serves as a warning to government officials in the region.
“Justice applies to everyone,” she said. “This was the sounding case we needed; it hopefully sets a precedent.”
She said the presidential candidates whom Guatemalans will vote on in Sunday’s national elections should also take note that corruption is no longer tolerated by Guatemalans.
“I’m sure they’ll be on their best behavior after all this,” she said.
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