On the 16th of May, more than 60,000 Guatemalan people took to the streets, occupying Constitution Square. On the 20th, thousands more returned to continue the protests. These protests by workers, youth and social organizations represent the most important protests since the signing of the Peace Accords of ‘96.
“We are tired of being robbed of our education, our health, and of our dignity.” (Protester on the 16th of May movement)
“It’s not rare to find thieves that preach against stealing so that the rest don’t create competition for them.” (Miguel de Unamuno)
The country’s vice president, the corrupt Baldetti, has been removed from office as a direct result of the protests along with more than 22 others on charges of corruption. The bourgeoisie are concerned however, as despite the vice president having been removed from government, there has been no let up in the protests. On the contrary; the people have awoken and are wanting more.
The Fight Has Been Unleashed
As ever, the intellectuals of the left are completely blind to these movements. It cannot be any other way, as they do not understand how the masses think. They explain that this struggle, that is shaking this Central American country, is for democracy and the strengthening of the rule of law. Other more seasoned intellectuals claim that the masses want the removal of the president in order to replace his government with another. It is always the case that the oppressed masses take to the streets knowing what it is that they don’t want, but without a clear idea as to what it is that they do want. On their journey the masses will clearly map out their history, for the protests may have begun against corruption but the causes go deeper than that. The anger and frustration that exist are directed at violent conditions, hunger, and capitalist exploitation.
The protests began in response to a corruption scandal within the government, focused particularly in the Superintendency of Tax Administration, in which a gang of corrupt officials and thieves called “La Linea,” stole millions from government coffers. On the 16th of April, the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG)—a body directly funded and administered by American Imperialism—began an investigation. Acts of corruption were discovered at various levels:
“This hierarchical body includes members from administrative processors and technicians in charge of the random inspection of the containers—known as vista—to the top executive and former top executive of the Superintendency of Tax Administration (SAT), Omar Francy and Carlos Muñoz, respectively.
“The organization, according to CICIG, was directed by Juan Carlos Monzón Rojas, the private secretary to Vice President Roxana Baldetti. He is now a fugitive and has an international order for his arrest.” (Guatemala: Vice President Baldetti Leaves but the Protests Continue, Proceso Magazine, 15th of May).
The response was immediate. The following day protests were organized online and a small turnout was expected. However, the response was impressive; a few thousand gathered at the doors of the government palace, demanding the removal of the accused. The intention was for the tone of this first mobilization to remain apolitical. Wrapped up in intricate language, the fight was portrayed as one for democracy and against corruption, without a single word being uttered against the government. However, with the mobilization of students from the University of San Carlos, along with organizations of workers, peasants, indigenous people and social movements, the mood changed, and with it the slogans.
The second protest occurred on the 1st of May; International Workers’ Day. Union organizations organized in the General Center of Workers of Guatemala (CGTG), students from both public and private universities, and social organizations once again took to the streets in massive protests at different points of the city. The slogans again made the call for the removal of corrupt government officials.
The Government Crisis
The response by President Pérez Molina’s government was initially one of uncertainty, followed by the turning in of some minor officials. In recent days he has been trying to throw all of the dead weight overboard before the ship sinks. The initial response was to be expected - corruption in Guatemala is practically a national sport. For left reformist (Álvaro Colom) as much as for right wing governments , the blatant robbing of government funds (that is to say, taxes paid by workers and peasants) has been conducted with glee.
The government of Pérez is the successor of Álvaro Colom’s left leaning government, which was itself involved in corruption scandals. Since Pérez Molina’s assumption of office, both he and Vice-President Baldetti clearly demonstrated the type of government they would lead and for whom they would govern. Pérez is a man linked with the Guatemalan military and is a leader of the Kaibil School—an elite military group utilized in the fight against the guerrillas and the people in general, recognized internationally for its brutality. Baldetti, a woman who competed in the Miss Guatemala beauty pageant, is the owner of beauty salons and spas. These are two examples of the lineage of Creole leaders.
Once in office, they began to implement cuts to the most important government departments in which resources are most needed. The inclusion of Carlos Monzón into such a tight-nit government body [the Superintendency of Tax Administration], with his background, gives us a clear picture of the corrupt nature of the people that they have helped.
Monzón is a veteran of crime. Accused of stealing cars and of the assassination of a police officer, he is now one of the wealthiest millionaires in the country. His luxurious property portfolio includes an extravagant mansion worth 850 thousand dollars in the capital, another on the beach valued at more than one million dollars, and a several others that in total are valued at over 2.2 million dollars.
Corruption extends to the presidency itself, although a special mention must go to ex-vice-president Baldetti, who is known as the mother of rampant corruption:
“Of humble origins, Baldetti is now owner of a considerable fortune valued in millions of dollars, three mansions in the best neighborhoods of the capital, a vacation home in the Port of San José, and two properties in Tecpán, Chimaltenango. ‘Life in Guatemala is for living, and that’s what I am doing! Wild, young, and free,’ writes young Mario, Baldetti’s 22 year old son on Instagram, which shows an extravagant lifestyle. Other posts show trips with friends to foreign countries, traveling in private jets reserved for the occasion. A frequent traveler, given his young age, he celebrated the new year and the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro; rode an elephant in India; and visited tourist attractions throughout the United Kingdom and Italy. Mario Paz Baldetti and his friends frequently travel to New York and Miami, a city in which he supposedly rents out the LIV nightclub in the Hotel Fontainebleau, where a private party can cost 30 thousand dollars, according to some of his friends.
“Tax records for high public officials in Guatemala are not public, but a simple addition of Baldetti’s public salary from the past 10 years does not add up. In total, her salary for the past nine years is close to 540 thousand dollars. But in that same time period, she has allegedly amassed properties valued at more than 10 million dollars.” (Un cuento de hadas sin final feliz)
It could be said that the findings of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) were the last straw amongst a growing accumulation of contradictions within the Guatemalan masses. The findings have been sufficient to submerge the regime in a deep crisis of credibility. The government, being mired in the scandal and having borne witness to the unfolding class struggle, has clumsily taken its next step; imprisoning 22 government officials, including the ex-leader of the SAT. There are many fugitives, including the former private secretary of the ex-Vice-President Baldetti, Juan Carlos Monzon.
With these detentions they tried to cover up the miserable regime with a mere fig leaf. But the workers and the youth are not stupid. The protests of the First of May were not only overwhelming, but clear in the sense that they manifested disgust towards the entirety of the government, specifically towards the vice president who, regardless of her support and money, had to resign on May 8. It is logical that President Pérez wanted to cover for his friend. The entirety of the government is a nest of rats with long tails to step on. They know perfectly well that if one falls, is tried and convicted, the accused could “spill” all of the rotten, hidden details of the establishment’s workings.
The crisis has also affected the vice president’s political party, the Partido Patriota. This party’s presidential candidate, Alejandro Sinibaldi—linked directly to the Guatemalan business sector—has resigned given the dirty link between the corrupt embezzlers and the party. This link has also provoked a mass shift from candidates of the Partido Patriota to the Libertad Democrática Renovada party.
The conflict has caused a fissure to open up in the previously strong union between the Guatemalan government and part of the Guatemalan business class. This is obviously a desperate act on the part of the Guatemalan bourgeoisie so as to avoid going down with the government run by the Partido Patriota. But they also want to cover up their own tracks linking them with corruption, which they can obviously not accomplish. There are lines of investigation that link at least a thousand businessmen with the corrupt actions of La Línea. It is clear that the bourgeoisie is removing their support from a government that is failing, and leaving it to its own demise.
The fight against corruption passes over to a fight against capitalism
The protests didn’t stop even after the announcement of the vice president’s withdrawal. On the 16th of May, more than 60 thousand youth, peasants, housewives and workers descended on the areas around Constitution Plaza. The impact on social media has been tremendous. There are newspaper reports that indicate that the movement has a following of more than 9 million people worldwide. The struggle has unleashed the pent up rage accumulated over years. Even though Guatemala is posited as the most economically developed country in Central America, the disproportion between the rich and poor is also the highest in the region. Violence also continues to rise. This is what the Central Bank has to say regarding the situation:
“Guatemala has the largest economy in Central America, but it is located in one of the countries with the highest levels of inequality in Latin America, with high poverty levels, particularly in the rural zones and within indigenous communities.
“The levels of chronic malnourishment and infant mortality are some of the highest in the region. According to the Human Development Index (2013), Guatemala occupies the 133rd position within 187 countries documented, and comes in last place in the Central American region.
“The study titled ‘Evaluación de la pobreza en Guatemala’ (Evaluation of poverty in Guatemala) by the Central Bank shows that the country was able to reduce poverty from 56% to 51% between 2000 and 2006. However, official figures from 2011 show that the poverty level has risen to 53.7%. The situation is especially difficult in the rural areas that account for 44% of the country. There, almost eight of every 10 people live in poverty, according to the results of the “Mapa de Pobreza Rural 2011” (Map of Rural Poverty 2011).”
The atmosphere that permeates the protests is illustrative of what is being spoken of. In the words of one of the protesters: “We are tired of being robbed of our education, our health, and our dignity”. This is the face of the accumulated rage that has spilled onto the streets. The masses are not only fighting against corruption, but also to end violence, inequality and poverty; and for improvements in education, health, etc.
The workers, youth and peasants must continue their protests and find a direction to take the struggle. Up until now, the the leading role in the conflict has been the CICIG. In the past few weeks, this body—dependent on the United Nations and American Imperialism—has won a great deal of support amongst the youth. They are seen as an organization that is truly putting up a fight against corruption. The disagreements between the government of Otto Pérez and this organization are not new however. In reality, they began in 2013 with the trial of ex-dictator and genocidal leader Rios Montt. While the government of Pérez Molina acquitted him, CICIG maintained a critical position, which fostered a tense relationship between the two. However, the president was forced to retract his stated intentions to block the interventions of the CICIG (this year was set to mark the official end of its actions but the government has asked the CICIG to continue). Under pressure from American imperialism, but also now from the mass protests, this organization will continue its functions. This conflict between the agents of American imperialism on the one hand and the Guatemalan government on the other is not one between some “saintly” institution and another which is corrupt. At the end of the day this is a conflict of interests regarding who can take the biggest slice of the cake in regards to the economic resources and material wealth of Guatemala.
The head of CICIG, Iván Velásquez from Colombia, said the following:
“The CICIG is committed with the state and society to make all efforts in supporting Guatemalan aspirations in the consolidation of its institutions: to offer systemic analysis through Thematic Reports.; create proposals for reforms to work towards the strengthening of institutions; to continue judicial prosecution, developed hand in hand with the Public Ministry... Justice will vindicate society in its mission to build.” (Siglo XXI, April 4, 2015)
When they speak of “institutions,” they are referring to the perfection of the State; a system of repression by the rich in order to continue to oppress the poor. They pledge to maintain the domination of big capital and to keep at bay any struggle to end misery, ignorance and violence.
CICIG says it will fight against corruption. However, we need to remember that corruption is inherent in the capitalist system. Corruption is not the disease but a symptom of the disease—one of many—that creates a society in which money weighs more than anything else and in which having more money is the symbol of power. Marx pointed out that capitalism could never function unless it was fed through corruption, stealing and violence. This was necessary in the beginning so that the rich of today could accumulate their initial capital.
The liberal wing of the bourgeoisie complains of corruption and asks for a tough hand in its fight against it by strengthening the judicial and imprisonment process with harsher sanctions and greater transparency. They preach the necessity of introducing ethical and moral values. This is the extent of the “fight against corruption” by the bourgeoisie and their allies.
For Marxists, corruption is intrinsic to the capitalist system. It is the logic of capitalism that demands the accumulation of wealth, which in the end defines the role you play in this system. Obtaining wealth is the goal to be achieved, regardless of whether it is obtained legally or illegally. It could be said that private property, individualism, and corruption move as one entity under capitalism. In this system, corruption and stealing are a “necessary evil” in order to make money.
This is why we continue to point out that the fight against corruption won’t find its solution through placing agencies in control of the state, or by mobilizing campaigns for morality and honesty. It will end with the abolition of the system that creates thee conditions of individualism, greed and misery. If we fight against capitalism, we will also be fighting against violence and insecurity.
The protests that we are now seeing in Guatemala serve as an example and inspiration for the oppressed of the entire world. We are completely united with the protesting masses in their struggle. Victory will only come if we throw out the government of Otto Pérez, the corrupt bourgeoisie, and imperialism. We must move towards a general strike so we can bring the capitalist system to its knees and move towards a society without classes in which corruption, violence, and poverty are things of the past. We must fight for a socialist future for humanity.
25th of May, 2015