By Juan Luis Font
Manuel Baldizón, once an influential member of Congress and the leading presidential candidate in 2015, fell from the top. In 2019, he plead guilty in a U.S. court to laundering drug money through the U.S. financial system, and he was sentenced to several years in prison there.
After serving his sentence, he was deported to Guatemala in 2022, where he has managed to stay out of prison despite facing two open criminal investigations for corruption. One involves alleged misuse of public transport funding, and the other involves an alleged bribery scheme with Brazilian multinational Odebrecht.
Despite all this, the Public Ministry (MP) appeared to be going easy on him, and he is once again running Congress. Now, however, the MP seems to want him back in prison.
Why does the Public Ministry (MP) suddenly want to jail Manuel Baldizón?
Because his candidacy for Congress has become a real and concrete threat to the current governing coalition. This coalition will need to renew its pact with the incoming president, and impunity for its members is one basic condition. The other is the distribution of dealings involving public funds.
If Baldizón is included in this pact, it will create greater difficulty and risk for all involved—and lower profit margins.
Who is affected if Manuel Baldizón can walk free and campaign?
- Economic elites who were extorted when Baldizón was an influential power broker in Congress. He has expressed regret for the corruption and money laundering crimes he was incarcerated for in the U.S., but he is not necessarily to be believed.
- President Alejandro Giammattei and Miguel Martínez, who could lose multiple congressional seats in districts like Chiquimula, Petén, Suchitepéquez, Retalhuleu, or Escuintla to this savvy politician who knows how to attract votes. With fewer seats under control, they stand to gain less money and business in exchange for votes.
- Presidential candidate Sandra Torres, who has old quarrels with Baldizón, stands to lose potential votes if Baldizón attracts them to his party.
- Like Torres, presidential candidate Zury Ríos may also lose votes if Baldizón campaigns freely. Zury’s most likely path to victory lies in making it to the second-round runoff with Torres, the only candidate more people will vote against.
- Anyone else who wants to be president in 2024. If Baldizón again becomes the leader of a party bloc in Congress, he could manage to expand it with relative ease as he has in the past—twice. He could become the most burdensome ally or disruptive opponent of any administration.
Can the MP, suddenly repenting, return Manuel Baldizón to prison?
It could. But Baldizón has cards he can play to combat this effort:
- When he was at his most powerful, he nominated half the justices on the current Supreme Court. As an example, prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche has asked a court to revoke Baldizón’s house arrest and put him in prison. The judge fielding the prosecutor’s request is taking his time to set a date to review the petition.
- Baldizón has other tools at his disposal to dissuade the government. His son, Jorge Baldizón, allegedly witnessed a conversation regarding a corrupt agreement made by former Infrastructure Minister José Luis Benito to use stolen government funds to finance President Giammattei’s second-round runoff campaign. A report on this conversation has thus far been ignored by the MP.
- Baldizón has close associates who can influence Giammattei, like Edgar Barquín.
- What can we learn about the MP from this situation?
- In the best case scenario, it is erratic. First it weakened the case against Baldizón, and now it appears to be strengthening it.
- Prosecutor Curruchiche is attempting to throw out the cooperation agreement and the witness testimony it provided from the Brazilians involved in the Odebrecht case.
- The MP did not oppose Baldizón’s release from prison.
- Now the MP is jailing people who supposedly collaborated with Baldizón to launder money.
- And the MP is attempting to jail him again.
What is the easiest conclusion to draw?
The MP is an instrument of politics and corruption. It is a loaded gun aimed at law and order. It has been ever since Consuelo Porras became Attorney General. It has acted this way, and blatantly, in many cases. And it’s not as if the MP hadn’t, to some degree, acted this way before. The difference is that now all this is eminently clear.