Reports: Guatemala’s Political Crisis Linked to Cocaine Smuggling Operation

Thousands of Guatemalans took to the streets on Saturday, 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 using #RenunciaYa (Resign Already).

The situation blew up in April, when the U.N. International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala released findings from an investigation into a customs bribery ring uncovered by Guatemalan prosecutors. Baldetti’s private secretary, Juan Carlos Monzón, was named the ringleader, forcing Baldetti to step down May 8—despite protesting her innocence. Pérez Molina has pleaded ignorance about the ring, dubbed “La Línea,” and pledged a crackdown on corruption. Monzón is on the lam, and an Interpol warrant has been issued.

Reports have also linked Baldetti with Marllory Chacón Rossell—dubbed by the Guatemalan press the “Queen of the South,” and by the U.S. Treasury Department “one of the most prolific narcotics traffickers in Central America.” Chacón was sentenced by a U.S. court in Miami on May 6, accused of running a major cocaine smuggling artery linking Colombia to Mexico. She turned herself in to U.S. authorities last September, amid speculation about a deal.

In an unusual measure, the prison term was kept secret, but it is believed that she received a reduced sentence for cooperating with authorities. 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 Guatemala say Chacón attended Baldetti’s 50th birthday party and donated $2 million to the ruling Patriot Party.

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