Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets May 16, demanding the nation's President Otto Pérez Molina step down amid a scandal that has already forced the resignation of his vice president, Roxana Baldetti. Despite rain, protesters marched in 13 cities. Throngs filled the capital's central plaza, where a giant banner read "We are the people." The mobilization was largely leaderless, organized by social media under the hashtag #RenunciaYa (Resign Already). It all blew up in April, when the UN International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala released findings of an investigation into a customs bribery ring uncovered by Guatemalan prosecutors. Baldetti's private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón, was named as the ringleader, forcing Baldetti to step down May 8—despite protesting her innocence. Pérez Molina likewise pleads ignorance about the ring, dubbed "La Línea," and pledges a crackdown on corruption. Monzón is on the lam and an Interpol warrant has been issued.
Reports have also claimed links between Baldetti and Marllory Chacón Rossell—dubbed by the Guatemaln press the "Queen of the South," and by the US Treasury Department "one of the most prolific narcotics traffickers in Central America." Chacón was sentenced by a US court in Miami on May 6, accused of running a major cocaine smuggling artery linking Colombia to Mexico. She turned herself in to US authorities last September, amid speculation about a deal. In an unusal measure, the prison term was kept secret. It is believed she received a reduced sentence for cooperating with authoriites. Her network is said to have sold to both of Mexico's two great rival machines, Los Zetas and the Sinaloa Cartel. Baldetti denies ever having met Chacón. But press reports in Guatamala say Chacón attended Baldetti's 50th birthday party and donated $2 million to the ruling Patriot Party. (Tico Times, May 18;Tico Times, DW, May 17; Tico Times, May 15; PanAm Post, May 12;InSight Crime, May 7; BBC News, NY Daily News, May 6)