Former Vice President of Guatemala Embroiled in Scandal

Roxana Baldetti, the former vice-president of Guatemala, has had a long history of corruption. This past Tuesday, October 9th, Baldetti was sentenced to 15 years in prison for her role in the Magic Water scandal. Baldetti has three major scandals working against her: the Magic Water scandal, her involvement in La Linea, and smuggling cocaine into the United States.

 Baldetti started her political career in the 1990s. She began as the Sub Secretary of Public Relations for the Presidency of the Republic. In 2001, she and Otto Perez Molina founded the Patriot Party, a conservative party that pledged to crack down on violence. Molina promised to rule with an “iron fist” – that promise, however, never came true. In 2012, she became the first female vice-president in Guatemala with Molina as the president. In 2015, she had to step down due to her corruption allegations.

In 2015, the La Linea corruption case was uncovered. This was corruption at the highest levels of government. Both President Molina and Baldetti received bribes to let businesses import their products while evading up to 50% of the customs charges. In return, the organization received roughly US$300,000 per week from payments. This scandal meant the money that would have been collected from the custom’s unit would not go back to the people, but instead right into the pockets of Baldetti and Molina. La Linea led to both Molina and Baldetti resigning from their positions with disgrace.

Guatemala is home to Lake Amatitlán, which has been experiencing high levels of pollution for years now. Lake Amatitlan is situated very close to the capital, Guatemala City, making it very susceptible to runoff like waste, fertilizers, and sediment. In 2015, Baldetti signed a contract with the Israeli company M Tarcic Engineering to help clean up the lake using special containment. However, the deal amounted to little more than empty promises. The businessmen from the Israeli company bribed the Guatemalan government for the $18 million dollar deal that actually did nothing for the lake. After some tests, the de-containment was simply water, salt, and chlorine – a substance that has no beneficial effects and may even have adversary effects. Additionally, Uri Roitman, the M Tarcic Engineering representative, faces 11 years in jail from this fraudulent deal. Baldetti claims she did not receive any of the money from bribes.

Baldetti is also being extradited by the United States for her involvement with the drug trade. Between 2010 and 2015, Baldetti allegedly helped smuggle cocaine into the United States. She is affiliated with the Zeta drug cartel in Mexico. In exchange for money and gifts, she allowed the Zetas to use Guatemala as a route to the United States. This case has not been heard in US courts yet, as she has to finish with her cases in Guatemala first. This process could take years.

In 2006, the United Nations International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to create an outside organization to reduce the levels of corruption in Guatemalan politics after the nation’s civil war. The main purpose of the organization is to uncover corruption in the highest levels of government, which was the case in both La Linea and Magic Water. Because CICIG is an independent organization, they are able to investigate corruption more critically than investigations stemming from the Guatemalan government itself. The CICIG mandate is renewed every two years and, if not renewed, will end in September 2019.

This past Tuesday, October 9th, Baldetti was sentenced to 15 years in prison for her involvement in the Magic Water case. Baldetti received “eight years for illicit association, 2 years and six months for influence peddling and five for fraud by Pablo Xitumul” (TeleSur). Though she denies it, all of the people involved received close to US$3 million in initial bribes. The trial was conducted by CICIG and the Public Ministry. Baldetti’s sentence does not include her involvement with La Linea, which is pending.  

The cases Baldetti is caught up in affects more people than just her. Ex-President Otto Perez Molina, her brother Mario Baldetti, and current president Jimmy Morales are facing their own problems. Molina is facing charges for his involvement with La Linea, similarly to Baldetti. Mario Baldetti is facing charges of being the middleman between the Guatemalan government and the Israeli company. Morales is facing scrutiny for his decision to not approve the CICIG mandate. This creates distrust among the Guatemalan public because Morales is removing the organization that uncovered many corruption cases a few years prior. Morales is also facing accusations of illegal campaign finances.

These Guatemalan corruption cases have been investigated for years, but the fight is still not over. Not every actor has been sentenced and the trials are still ongoing. Guatemala still has a long way to go to remove corruption from their government, especially with Morales not renewing the CICIG mandate. Corruption, especially at this high level, is detrimental to the wellbeing of the citizens of Guatemala.

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