Guatemala: The Unexpected Leader of the Anti-Corruption Spring

10/15/2015 04:51 pm ET Updated Oct 15, 2016

On the eve of the upcoming elections in Guatemala, uncertainty is in the air. Ten days before the decisive round, it is still unclear if the people will choose the outsider Jimmy Morales, or the experienced former First Lady Sandra Torres to run the country. However, much more than electoral results is at stake. The Guatemalans stand in a decisive moment in the history of their country. The results of the election and the political steps taken right after have the power to decide the future of the unprecedented democratic revolution that has swept the country, and to define of the role and power of civil society in the next years.

It seems like the world is slowly and peacefully moving towards an anti-corruption spring. Today Moldova is on its sixth week of constant protests demanding the President and his cabinet to resign after a $1 bn government fraud was unveiled by the country's Central Bank. In South Africa, thousands of protesters have taken the streets of Johannesburg, Pretoria, and Cape Town protesting against the overwhelming corruption in the government and the resulting inequality and increasing unemployment. In Latin America, Brazil's government is under severe pressure as civil society and the main opposition parties demand the resignation of the Speaker of the Lower House of Congress and the president for alleged corruption scandals in Petrobras.Mexico has not been the exception; Corruption scandals involving the president, the first lady and other high-ranked public officials unleashed an active campaign of protest and social media petitions demanding Peña Nieto's resignation this year. The revolution has started, but the question remains? Which movements will be capable of producing a real change?

In the context of the anti-corruption spring, Guatemala is becoming a key player as role model and leader. The unprecedented campaign of social protests in the country has already succeeded in peacefully overthrowing the corrupt regime of Otto Pérez Molina, who is now in jail along with Vice-President Roxana Baldetti, under diverse charges of corruption and fraud. These actions evidence Guatemalan civil society's power in terms of changing the course of its political history, and undoubtedly inspire the fight against corruption in other parts of the world. Not only has the people of Guatemala demonstrated its organization capacity, but it has also set the tone for a series of complex political and economic reforms to be undertaken in the next months in order to solidify the country's steps towards real and sustainable change.

This is a crucial moment in Guatemala's history. The Arab Spring taught the world the bitter lesson about the meaning of successful social movements. Overthrowing the authoritarian regime is only half of the battle. Civil society must understand that the events that take place immediately after the government has been overthrown and a new one has been elected are decisive in the new course of the country, in assessing the actual impact of the revolution, and in determining the role and nature of civil society. If Guatemala fails to create and successfully enforce structural reforms, the country can risk becoming a lost cause. If things go back to the way they were and the people do not perceive a substantial change and an improvement in the political dynamics, civil society's role will be severely weakened and the country as a whole, could move towards resignation and political apathy. However, if the movement succeeds and, in fact, a real and substantial change is produced, Guatemala's civil society is likely to become more engaged in politics and create a reinforcing cycle that further prevents corruption and impunity, also serving as a model for the anti-corruption revolutions abroad.

Now is the time for Guatemala's civil society to regain forces and understand that the fight for a more democratic and accountable government is only starting. Now it's the time for civil societies around the world to realize that after the corrupt officials resign, they must become even more politically active and propose structural reforms that can lead to a sustainable change. The road ahead is long and challenging, but going back is not an option, as it would represent the most hurtful defeat for civil society and its role in the political reality of its country.