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EL ESPECTADOR

Immunity No More! Guatemalan Lessons For The Rest Of Latin America

Honest judges and popular protest combined to topple a president, setting a bold precedent in an age when news travels fast.

Anti-corruption protests last week in Guatemala City
Anti-corruption protests last week in Guatemala City
Aldo Cívico

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — Guatemala has joined the ranks of countries where ordinary people are saying enough is enough to politics and knavery as usual.

After months of street protests, the country's parliament voted last week to strip President Otto Pérez Molina of his immunity. The leader is suspected of embezzling public funds. Pérez Molina resigned and was immediately jailed, capping an exceptional turn of events, particularly in the context of Latin America, where corruption scandals recur in a setting of shameless impunity for the rich, the powerful and the violent.

There are perhaps some lessons here that Guatemala's fellow Latin American countries would do well to heed. One is that justice must be implacable in fighting corruption. The other lies in the visible strength of a civic movement promoting the culture of legality.

Such a movement becomes imperative when politics and public life lose both sense and essence, are rotted through by corruption, and when collaboration between legal and illegal powers becomes habitual.

Corruption is the cancer of democracy. It annuls the legal pact through which people consider themselves members of a community, and corrodes their sense of belonging. As ethical conduct melts away, corruption fans the worship of personal interests and turns the common good into an irksome obstacle.

The judiciary's role becomes crucial when the political sphere has become an ethical vacuum. In those cases it must act as a surgeon that extirpates and cuts where necessary to ensure the survival of the social body. And for that it needs its corps of competent, responsible officials.

In Guatemala, the judiciary proved decisive thanks to the intervention of an honest judge, Colombian Iván Velásquez of the UN-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. As our columnist María Elvira Bonilla wrote once, since the time of the mobster Pablo Escobar, Velásquez has devoted his career to fighting the ties between politics and crime. When he began scrutinizing relations between Colombian paramilitaries and politicians, Colombia sent him packing. Today Guatemala enjoys what Colombia failed to appreciate.

Justice is essential. But it's not enough. That is something the Italian prosecutors Giovanni Falcone and Paolo Borsellino understood. For them, the fight against the mafia had to be more than a cold, distant analysis. It had to be part of a cultural and ethical movement. Their work had to shake consciences so that social complicity with the mafia would no longer be perceived as normal and inevitable.

Judge Velásquez's efforts did just that. He managed to shake the minds of Guatemalans, helping foster the peaceful civilian protests that, in combination with judicial action, led to the president's resignation and arrest.

Guatemalans broke free of fear and its silent shackles, setting an important precedent in the process. Competent, honest leaders backed by independent civilian action can turn what seemed like the impossible into business as usual.

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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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