By Sofia Menchu and Enrique Pretel
Tens of thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets on Thursday to demand the resignation of President Otto Perez, who has refused to quit in the face of accusations by his attorney general that he was involved in a lucrative customs racket.
Carrying banners proclaiming, “Guatemala has no president,” demonstrators staged marches from the capital to the regions while businesses ranging from McDonald’s restaurants to brewery Cerveceria Centro Americana closed in support of the protest.
“It can’t be that he looks the other way and ignores the fact the people don’t want him any more,” one marcher, publicist Felipe Flores, 25, said of Perez.
Perez, a 64-year-old retired general, reiterated that he would not resign and pledged instead to submit to the legal process against him, which has engulfed the country in crisis just days before presidential elections due on Sept. 6.
The Supreme Court of Guatemala this week accepted Attorney General Thelma Aldana’s request to impeach Perez, but it must still pass Congress to be successful.
Perez has already survived one attempt by Congress to strip him of his presidential immunity as a two-thirds majority is required for the decision to go against him.
Congress has named a five-strong panel to decide if there is enough evidence to warrant prosecuting Perez.
Pressure for him to resign is mounting, but if he does, he may suffer the same fate as former Vice President Roxana Baldetti, who was arrested last week for her alleged part in the customs fraud enveloping Perez, which is known as La Linea.
While saying he planned to stay on, the president conceded to Guatemalan radio that resignation was an option.
“It’s a personal decision, I have asked God for great wisdom so I can be enlightened and take the best decisions for the Guatemalan people,” Perez said.
The accusations against Perez are part of a series of graft scandals that have rocked the nation in the last four months, and probes against opposition lawmakers have also dented their hopes of taking the presidency in the upcoming elections.
Opinion polls suggest no candidate will secure the 50 percent of votes required to win outright on Sept. 6 so that the vote is likely to go to a second round run-off on Oct. 25.