Don't call the protests in Guatemala the 'Central American Spring.' No one likes hyperbole.

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Carol Hills: Guatemala doesn't quite share Brazil’s exposure to the Chinese stock market debacle, but it does share a problem with corruption. Governments in both countries have been rocked by corruption scandals. In Guatemala, thousands of people have packed city streets in the country’s capital to protest government corruption. Our colleague at BBC Mundo, Arturo Wallace, has been following the story from Guatemala City. He says the demonstrators are pretty clear about their demands.

 

Arturo Wallace: Well, most of them want the president of Guatemala, Otto Perez Molina, to resign while in the middle of a big corruption scandal. This has been the biggest, the largest protest in Guatemala for the past 30 years, the past three decades, and a lot has to do with an investigation from the International Commission Against Impunity who discovered and dismantled a corruption network that was accepting bribes from Guatemalan businessmen to avoid paying import duties.

 

Hills: How did that actually work, then?

 

Wallace: Well, they basically had contacts in the custom office that would make sure they didn’t have to pay the duties in exchange of large amounts of money. Until now, more than 100 people are investigation, 30 have been arrested, including the vice president of Guatemala, Roxana Baldetti. And prosecutors say that they have enough evidence to start also procedures against the president of Guatemala Otto Perez Molina. He’s been accused of leading the ring. He has rejected the accusations, he says they are politically motivated, but has been holed into his office among protests that want him to resign.

 

Hills: So, some writers and observers are comparing this to the Arab Spring in terms of just the sheer numbers of protesters and the scale. Is comparing these protests to the Arab Spring, is that fair?

 

Wallace: I think it’s a little farfetched. It’s certainly quite important in Guatemala and it marks the resurgence of a civil society protesting. As I said before, these are the largest public demonstrations in more than three decades in Guatemala. So, it is a big thing; it is a reawakening of the civic spirit. But, you know, there are certain similar aspects, but I think it would be too ambitious to expect that this might result in huge political change within the region as it happened in the Arab Spring

 

Hills: Well, another key difference is that, say, in Guatemala, President Otto Perez Molina, he was democratically elected, which makes me wonder why they want him to step down, especially since elections are coming up. Why is there such pressure for him to step down when there’s an opportunity to elect someone else pretty soon?

 

Wallace: Well, yeah, in a way, because all these discussions will also mark and have a big impact on who is elected next. Of course, by sort of going against President Molina and his party, they might weaken the possibility of having his chosen replacement. But also I guess it says a lot about how weary and how tired Guatemalans are about state corruption and about the lack of response from state institutions.

 

Hills: I just had one curiosity question: is the protest in Guatemala, is it sort of across kind of ethnic and class divides?

 

Wallace: Well, so far they have been very urban protests, mostly people from Guatemala City. And it’s very funny, President Molina actually asked for peasants and indigenous people to revolt and protest in his favor last sunday when he announced that he wasn’t resigning despite the formal accusations. So, so far, it seems to be mostly a very middle class urban protest, but that doesn’t mean that people from all the wakes of Guatemalan society aren’t fed up with corruption and aren’t angry with all the things that have been demonstrated and proven by the International Commission Against Impunity.

 

Hills: Our colleague, Arturo Wallace, is with BBC Mundo. Thanks, Arturo.

 

Wallace: My pleasure.