Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina is confronting increasing calls to resign after his central bank chief was indicted and protesters prepared to take to the streets this weekend.
In the wake of corruption scandals that have prompted the departure of his vice president and key cabinet members, Nobel laureate Rigoberta Menchu, the country’s professional association of attorneys and the Center for the Defense of the Constitution this week called for Perez Molina to step down.
“Democracy is collapsing and therefore Otto Perez Molina must resign,” Marco Sagastume, the head of the country’s attorneys association, told reporters this week.
The crisis has paralyzed the government in Central America’s biggest economy ahead of presidential elections in September. This month, Perez Molina has fired or accepted the resignation of his vice president, tax chief, two energy ministers, security minister, environment minister and head of intelligence for reasons that include corruption allegations.
About 30,000 people said on Facebook that they would attend a Saturday event called “Resign Now Otto Perez Molina.” Two weeks ago, an estimated 60,000 people protested in the streets across the country, which has a population of 14.6 million.
The 64-year-old president, who hasn’t been accused of wrong-doing, said this week he will finish his term and dismissed rumors that the elections would be canceled. He said he welcomed a call by the association representing the agriculture, commerce, industry and financial chambers to return public funds it said have been improperly used.
“It’s good that the different sectors want to draft proposals and want to find solutions to meet the demands of the Guatemalan population,” Perez Molina, a former general who helped broker an end to civil war in the 1990s, told reporters Thursday. “Recommendations are welcome. This is a job for all Guatemalans and not just the president.”
Last week, Perez Molina called claims that his cabinet is falling apart “totally false.”
The biggest blow to the government this week came with the indictment of central bank President Julio Suarez and 16 other people for fraud in an investigation into a $15 million contract issued by the Social Security Institute. As central bank chief, Suarez sits on the board of the institute. He has said he is innocent and that the board didn’t have administrative authority over the contracts.
Should Perez Molina step down, 79-year-old Vice President Alejandro Maldonado would take office. Maldonado, a judge on the Constitutional Court until he was voted to the vice presidential post by congress this month, ran unsuccessfully for president twice in the 1980s.
Weekly protests that erupted in April calling for the president’s resignation are expected to continue Saturday. Their size may signal whether Perez Molina will be able to finish out his term in January.
“If protests continue and intensify over the next weeks, there’s an increasing risk that he’ll have to step down,” said Risa Grais Targow, a Latin American analyst for Eurasia Group. “The guys who are with him now could say, ‘You know, just step down a few months early, that’s the only way to resolve this.”