Otto Pérez Molina resigned as president of Guatemala today, following Congress’ decision to strip him of his immunity and after an arrest warrant was issued. Pérez, who has been connected to a customs fraud scheme, wrote a letter to Congress saying that he is ready to “face justice and resolve my personal situation,” according to the New York Times. It’s a historic moment for Guatemala – a nation that has a long legacy of impunity for its political elite. Two years ago, for example, the landmark verdict convicting former dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt for genocide and crimes against humanity – a process closely linked to two documentaries that we covered here – was later overturned.
This time around, a dedicated, determined protest movement – which brought together members of Guatemala’s middle and peasant classes – was central to the events that led to Mr. Pérez Molina’s arrest warrant. And it all started because of a Facebook post.
After reading news of La Línea scheme – where officials defrauded the government out of money by sneaking goods into the country and underpaying fees and taxes – 33-year-old Gabriel Wer became frustrated, Fusion reports. That’s when he wrote a Facebook post asking people to take action and demand that Vice President Roxana Baldetti resign. Everything snowballed from there, and before he knew it, Wer was leading protests along with a group of strangers. “It’s strange, really. People are telling me: ‘You guys lit the spark.’ But we didn’t,” he told Fusion. “There was so much indignation among Guatemalans that the only thing that was missing was for someone to set a place and a time. It was nothing special.”
— Contagio Radio (@Contagioradio1) August 26, 2015
But it’s obvious that to those who joined in on the protests, it was special. On April 25 at 3 p.m., Wer and a group of eight coordinated their first protest, and they hoped for at least 50 to 60 people. Instead, 20,000 showed up. Three weeks later, there was another protest. By this point, Vice President Baldetti had resigned, and Wer and his group had organized Guatemala’s biggest protest in more than 50 years.
Quien no ama a Carlos Humberto Ruiz Gutierrez no ama a su madre. No se ama a si mismo. pic.twitter.com/VUwLwg7PCj
— José Carlos Martinez Navas (@gabrielmhh) August 27, 2015
The protests have been so successful that even famed futbolero Carlos “Pescadito” Ruiz joined in. Meanwhile, #RenunciaYa and #YoNoTengoPresidente have become signs of the movement on and off social media. This is another thing Wer deserves credit for. Originally, the Facebook event page read something like: The Citizen Protest To Demand The Resignation Of The Madame Vice President For Her Alleged Involvement In The Customs Fraud. He decided to change it to something snappy that a crowd could cheer, which is when it became #RenunciaYa. Since April, the group has accomplished a lot, but Wer is quick to point out that this is just the beginning.
When the arrest warrant was first issued, the president said he would not resign. Eventually, he changed his mind, announcing his resignation overnight. The NYT adds that for now, it’s not obvious what the next step is. He may be arrested, or he may have to show up to court.
Vice President Alejandro Maldonado is expected to become president for what remains of Mr. Pérez Molina’s term, and general elections will be held on Sunday.