Nearshore Americas

Scandal-hit Guatemala Elects Comedian As President

Comedian Jimmy Morales has won Guatemalan presidential elections amidst rising calls for the prosecution of corrupt politicians including former president Otto Pérez Molina currently jailed in a military barrack.

According to reports, Morales has defeated his nearest rival, former first lady Sandra Torres, by a huge margin of votes.  Unlike past elections, rooting out corruption was the main slogan this time.

In the past six months, a United Nations-backed panel of prosecutors working with the attorney general has gone on uncovering myriad schemes of politicians and bureaucrats to siphon cash from the country’s public coffers.

The investigation drew tremendous publicity and created a kind of revolt and hatred against politicians.  Morales, it seems, capitalized on his image as a political outsider, setting himself apart from an establishment tainted by corruption. And that was what brought him this victory.

The election came after a public prosecutor said he had proof that former president Otto Pérez Molina was the ringleader of a crime syndicate that took bribes from companies in exchange for lower import duties. Investigators later said the money collected this way was even distributed to officials and other leading politicians.

Prosecutors and UN investigators say the network collected $3.8 million in bribes between May 2014 and April 2015. The scandal, the worst in a string of recent corruption cases, has created an unprecedented climate of outrage in Guatemala.

Of course, crime and corruption has long besieged the economy in Guatemala. Yet reports say the Central American country is looking forward to seeing 4.2 percent growth this year.

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Morales has promised to spend more money on education. That’s good news for Guatemala, where illiteracy is the main stumbling block for the government to deal with poverty. Morales has vowed to make governance transparent, promising to keep Attorney General Thelma Aldana, a key figure in the investigation, and the UN commission in place.

Narayan Ammachchi

News Editor for Nearshore Americas, Narayan Ammachchi is a career journalist with a decade of experience in politics and international business. He works out of his base in the Indian Silicon City of Bangalore.

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