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Journalist Andrea Ixchiu describes the massive protests and legal case that led to the resignation and arrest of President Otto Perez Molina of Guatemala.

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SHARMINI PERIES, EXEC. PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In Guatemala after months of protests against government corruption, in particular a case of siphoning millions of dollars from customs contracts, President Otto Pérez Molina resigned on Thursday, citing that he needs to deal with his personal situation. A new interim government has already been sworn in. Apart from all of this, Guatemalans will be heading to the polls on Sunday for a general election. Now joining me to discuss all of this is Andrea Ixchíu. She is an indigenous Maya K’iche human rights activist and journalist from Guatemala. She works with the Guatemalan independent media outlet Prensa Communitaria. Andrea, thank you so much for joining us today. ANDREA IXCHIU: Hello. Thanks for the space to talk about Guatemala’s situation. PERIES: So Andrea, describe the events that led to the resignation of the president. IXCHIU: Well, there has been many. Especially because on April 25 the International Commission Against Impunity, its seat which was based in Guatemala since 2008, present with, along with the general attorney, investigation that implicates General Otto Pérez Molina, ex-president of Guatemala, that was involved in a corruption scandal that he and part of his government were all part of a criminal structure named Line. It has stolen, the money for the incoming taxes and also for the incoming importations in Guatemala. And stolen the money from immigration officers, and also duty. PERIES: Customs office, I understand. IXCHIU: Yes, customs office. PERIES: Now, I know that there’s been massive protests. A big one culminating last week with hundreds of thousands of people demonstrating, calling for his resignation and the resignation of the government. But who was actually responsible for bringing this case forward, and also forcing and putting so much pressure on him to resign? IXCHIU: Well, it is the investigation and trial that the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala started along with the attorney. That investigation was the one that bring him to court. And it was also moved by the pressure of the protests and the demonstrations on the streets. But it’s basically the investigation and the prosecution of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. PERIES: So the pressure that the people on the streets brought about compiled with the investigation of the commission. This is a real example of democracy at work. Also, give us a sense of the former role that General Molina had played in the 36-year civil war that Guatemala experienced. Many organizations point to his role in the brutality in that civil war, but others credit him for actually being a negotiator and bringing about an end to the civil war. What are your thoughts on that? IXCHIU: Well, I can say that as a young indigenous woman that part of the story that I already know is he is part of this criminal structure inside the military forces that committed the genocide against my communities. We know that he’s responsible for several massacres in the ’80s. But also in his recent period as president in Guatemala we have been living through another kind of criminalization, persecution, and also new massacres against indigenous communities. In [inaud.] of 2012, there was a massacre against my community in the Totonicapán highlands, Guatemala, when thousands of people were blocking a road and protesting against new laws that the government of Otto Pérez Molina were trying to improve. So there’s a lot of pressure and there’s a lot of movement along Otto Pérez Molina’s resignation. The movements on the streets wouldn’t be that huge if the indigenous and campesinos communities were not gone along together with the urban and middle class movement, and that’s because indigenous communities have been struggling for these past three years that make him–and put Otto Pérez Molina into a [corner] because of the massacres committed in the ’80s, because of the massacre that he committed in 2012. So there’s a mixture of stuff. I can’t say that he’s a general of the [peace], or that his role in the negotiations were important, because now we see the facts that he was all the time part of this criminal structure named La Linea, and also he is also responsible for the human rights violations during the civil war. PERIES: And now is there any part of the legal process that’s underway that’s going to hold him accountable for any of that activity during the civil war? IXCHIU: Well, when the genocide case was ended we have a lot of people that when they testified, they pointed at him. Also there’s another North American journalist investigator, and also part of a commission of journalists that came to Guatemala in the early ’80s that have a lot of proof about his participation in the massacres, as [inaud.] as you know. So they pointed at him. We have a lot of documentation. I’m not really sure right now if any community has already started the process against him because of the massacres in the ’80s. But yes, there’s a case open against his government because of the massacre in the Totonicapán in October, 2012. So we have seen that these military forces have always been persecuting the indigenous communities, and Otto Pérez Molina is part of this structure. So we can expect in the future that more cases against him can be opened. PERIES: And in the Sunday’s elections coming up, Andrea, is there any hope in terms of the candidates that are running? And whether there is a more democratic government that could come into play. IXCHIU: In this moment and in this condition there is no possibility that a democratic election can be done. We can see corrupt candidates from the parties that are leading this election. We’re really worried about that, because we cannot find any possibility in the actual political parties to find alternatives to have a choice to pick on Sunday. And that’s why a lot of the civil society organizations are calling together along to not participate in these elections. But also there’s this big worry about the new president and the new government. None of the candidates are now running for the presidency can give us any security that we can have good politicians and people that can lead the institutions in this crisis. That’s what we’re really worried about. We are expecting that the government, especially the Congress, and also the Tribunal Supremo Electoral, which is the institution that leads the elections, can suspend the election on Sunday because we have seen how political parties are, will put in threats against communities, pushing them to vote for them. Also condition [aid] in their participation, for developing programs in communities. So that’s not democracy. That’s some sort of dictatorship. And that’s what we do not want, and that’s why also the mobilizations and demonstrations are marching on the streets asking not just to change the political parties. We want to change the rules to make politics in Guatemala. PERIES: Andrea, thank you so much for joining us today. IXCHIU: Thanks for the space to talk about Guatemala. PERIES: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.


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Sharmini Peries was a co-founder of TRNN, where she harnessed the power and expertise of civil society institutions. Previously, Sharmini was Economic and Trade Adviser to President Hugo Chavez at Miraflores and for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Venezuela. Prior to that she served as the executive director of the following institutions: The Commission on Systemic Racism in the Criminal Justice System, The International Freedom of Expression Exchange, Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, and the Ontario Council of Agencies Serving Immigrants. She also managed the Human Rights Code Review Task Force in Ontario, Canada. She holds a M.A. in Economics from York University in Toronto, Canada. Her Ph.D. studies in Social and Political Thought at York University remain incomplete (ABD).