Guatemalan lawmakers on Friday repealed a recently passed bill that reduced the punishment for illegal campaign financing and set off a storm among government opponents who called it a reversal in the fight against impunity.
The reforms to the penal code approved by Congress on Wednesday were overturned with the support of 130 of 158 deputies. The repealed legislation lowered sentences for campaign financing crimes from 12 to 10 years and said that 10-year sentences could commuted by paying a fine.
Prosecutors and the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala have accused President Jimmy Morales — among others — of illicit financing in the election that brought him to power in 2016, and thousands of Guatemalans had filled the streets to protest the bill’s approval, saying it was to protect impunity and corruption. Earlier, Congress had voted not to strip Morales of his immunity from prosecution.
Human rights prosecutor Jordan Rodas called the reform a danger to the public because it left open the possibility that people convicted of crimes like extortion, robbery or manslaughter might also be able to pay fines instead of doing time.
Amid the outcry, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court suspended the controversial legislation on Thursday. Then on Friday Congress repealed them.
Marleni Matias, a deputy for the National Unity for Hope party, asked for pardon for voting for the legislation.
Opposition deputy Nineth Montenegro said: “I hope that from today on, if they let us finish our terms, we will read the initiatives well to prevent the discontent that there is today.”
But protests continued outside Congress despite the decision, blocking lawmakers from leaving the building.
Protesters yelled “We won’t go until they resign!” and “Let’s clean out Congress!”
Last month, Morales tried to expel the head of the international commission against impunity, Ivan Velasquez, but was thwarted by Guatemala’s top court.