Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina has undertaken - not unlike his Chilean counterpart Michelle Bachelet - a major revamp of his cabinet, a move which he announced on Thursday amidst demands for his resignation following arrests linked to corruption probes.
In a news conference, Perez said he had dismissed the interior, energy and environment ministers in addition to Guatemala’s intelligence chief and other senior officials.
His vice president had already resigned earlier on May 8 because of her proximity to a corruption case in which she herself was not charged.
On Wednesday, more than a dozen arrests were announced in connection with a health care corruption case the suspects of which include the president of the Social Security Institute and the president of the Bank of Guatemala.
These arrests followed a bribery probe jointly led by Guatemala’s anti-impunity prosecutor and the CICIG, the United Nations run International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala.
The CICIG, an independent commission funded by international contributions that the UN administers, has been instrumental in solving high-profile cases and helping Guatemala battle corruption.
President Molina had said he would not invite the commission to stay past its September mandate, but eventually had to cede to public pressure and agree to a two-year extension to the dismay of the business and political elite who reportedly fear and resent the organisation.
“There is an openness to investigate in any place, in any ministry,” the retired army general said in the press conference, assuring the public that the government would work with investigators to root out abuses by public officials.
Perez has not been accused of corruption himself; however his conservative Patriot Party has been hit hard with all the corruption scandals that have recently surfaced.
Thousands of protesters have been asking for Perez’s resignation, demanding an end to government corruption.
Guatemalan political analyst Gustavo Illescas told teleSUR that “Different motives have come together to demand the president’s resignation including dissatisfaction with the corruption within [Perez] Molina’s government, the fact that he made money off of medicine and health services meant for the population, or the fact that he carried out repressive actions against the indigenous and campesino movements.”
Guatemala will hold presidential elections in September but Perez is not eligible to run again due to constitutional term limits. However, he has said on numerous occasions that he plans to complete his four-year term and step down in Jan. 2016 as scheduled.
Mauricio Lopez Bonilla, a close ally of the president and head of the Interior Ministry since 2012, is said to have left office due to questions over some contracts.
“The minister told me he would prefer not to remain entrenched but would instead come out, show his face, and be able to confront any situation that could happen,” the president said at the news conference.
Environment Minister Michelle Martinez is being investigated in a fraud case linked to efforts to clean Lake Atitlan. Energy and Mining Minister Edwin Rodas is leaving office after only six days and State Intelligence Secretary Ulises Anzueto is also being removed from his position.
Former Vice President Roxana Baldetti is not being charged, however her private secretary is allegedly the ringleader in a multimillion dollar customs corruption and fraud scandal.