Latin America

Guatemalan leader fires three ministers as political crisis deepens

Calls grow louder for President Otto Pérez Molina to step down over corruption allegations

Otto Pérez Molina at a press conference on Thursday.
Otto Pérez Molina at a press conference on Thursday.ORDONEZ / AFP

Facing his worst political crisis since coming to office in 2012, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina ordered a far-reaching government shake-up on Thursday, firing three key ministers in an effort to appease angry citizens who are demanding his resignation over corruption allegations.

The changes come just weeks after Vice President Ingrid Roxana Baldetti handed in her own resignation after she was linked to an investigation into a customs fraud and bribery conspiracy at Guatemala’s tax agency.

After personally evaluating the work of all 13 ministers, Pérez Molina decided to replace only three

At a brief news conference in Guatemala City, Pérez Molina said he had initially asked for the resignations of all 13 ministers in his Cabinet.

But after personally evaluating their work he decided to fire only three: Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla; Energy and Mines Minister Edwin Rodas, who had just been sworn in three days before; and Environment and Natural Resources Minister Michelle Martínez.

He also removed top officials serving in these three ministries as well as the head of the SIE intelligence agency, retired General Ulises Anzueto.

Of all the firings, the most controversial was the replacement of López Bonilla as interior chief.

A former intelligence official, López Bonilla has been for years a close aide to Pérez Molina, who is a retired army general. They have known each other since their days at the military academy, and Pérez Molina entrusted him to take care of one of his main priorities: enforcing security across the country.

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But the president said his decision to remove López Bonilla was based on a recent decision by a court ordering the now-former minister to testify about alleged corruption in the ministry.

“They are investigating suspicious contracts,” Pérez Molina told reporters.

Eunice Mendizábal, the deputy anti-drug minister, will take over from López Bonilla.

The president also said that he had replaced the inspectors at Guatemala’s major ports at Santo Tomás de Castilla, on the Atlantic coast, and Quetzal, on the Pacific, after the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) accused them of helping a mafia ring known as La Línea to move drugs and other contraband.

In response to reporters’ questions, President Pérez Molina denied that his administration was facing an institutional crisis and reiterated that he would remain in office until his term concludes on January 14, 2016.

“I will stay on until the end of my term,” he said on various occasions, adding that there would be “more changes in the coming days.”

But analysts from different political groupings all agree that Pérez Molina’s credibility has sunk to its lowest point.

Analysts from different political perspectives agree that Pérez Molina’s credibility has sunk to its lowest point

One analyst, Manuel Conde, told EL PAÍS that President Pérez Molina should step down as soon as possible as there is the risk he may soon face legal proceedings that could land him in jail.

“We are coming to the end of his government. The situation cannot continue,” Conde said. “The entire country is repudiating the president, who has lost all credibility. If he stays in power, the investigations are going to show that he benefited from corruption.”

José Rubén Zamora, the chairman of elPeriódico, the Guatemalan City daily that has been reporting on government corruption for years, said “the social conflict will broaden while political deterioration will only get worse” if Pérez Molina remains in office.

Guatemalans are calling for more public demonstrations on Saturday.

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