Return to the Lake

If you’ve been an avid reader of XelaWho over the past 12 months (don’t laugh, we’re told such people actually exist) then you will remember that one year ago we wrote about the fiasco surrounding Lake Amatitlan’s “magic formula.” So ludicrous was the scandal, it had Guatemalans across the country simultaneously screaming with rage, hanging their heads in embarrassment and laughing at the sheer incompetence of their government which can’t even get corruption right. Well, last month the Caso Amatitlan, made the headlines once again so it’s time for an update.

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But first-off a quick recap for those that are new to the scene. Around February last year disgraced ex-Vicepresident Roxana Baldetti began claiming that she had approved an ingenious plan to clean up Lake Amatitlan, a grotesquely polluted lake outside Guatemala City. The plan involved dumping 93,000 litres of a “magic formula” (her actual words) into the lake. Now, when your leaders start using terms such as “magic formula” you can be sure that either something very dodgy is going on or you’ve somehow been mystically transported to Hogwarts. Unsurprisingly, therefore, alarm bells started to ring. Investigations by environmental groups and the Guatemalan press quickly revealed that the Q137 million project had undergone no due diligence and was being contracted to a dubious Israeli company.

The investigations caused the project to be put on hold before it could get underway. Meanwhile tests were carried out on the supposed “magic formula.” They revealed that it was 98% salt water. This meant the government was essentially paying Q1,500 per litre for something that they could have gotten for free from the huge deposits of salty water that lie off their coastline. Fortunately, the revelations enabled the government to terminate the contract and claw back Q115 million.

This, however, still left Q22 million unaccounted for, leaving room for Guatemala’s anti-corruption crusaders – the MP (Public Ministry) and the CICIG (Guatemala’s UN appointed anti-corruption commission) – to step in and dole out some justice. At the end of February they issued arrest warrants for 20 people tied to the scandal, including Baldetti, her brother (who Baldetti placed in charge of the lake’s environmental authority) and Hugo Roitman, the director of the Israeli company contracted for the project. Baldetti, already on trial for her role in the La Linea scam, is now facing additional charges of racketeering, fraud and influence trafficking. She protests her innocence, claiming that she never received any money for setting up the project, that she was just following orders from the President himself and that, with another classic mulada de Baldetti, the judge will have to decide what is the verdadera verdad (the “true truth”).

Roitman meanwhile continues to insist that his formula really does work. If true, this would mean that it truly is a “magic” formula since, last we checked, salt water is not so effective at cleaning up excrement and human waste, as anyone who’s laid eyes on some of the more turbid waters off Guatemala’s pacific coast can testify to.

In mid-March the judge decided that there was enough evidence to send Baldetti, along with 15 others, to preventative prison and the trial will soon continue. This is hopefully a good sign that some much needed justice could soon be served out. However, we don’t believe that some luxury jail time will suffice for a crime of this magnitude. If Baldetti, Roitman and their co-conspirators are so certain of their innocence they should be forced to put their money where their mouth is and use their magic formula to “clean up” a few hundred gallons of Lake Amatitlan’s water and then each drink down a pint of the water that’s left. All live on TV. If it somehow works then Guatemala gets the clean lake it was originally promised. If it doesn’t, then these corrupt government officials will have to guzzle down pints of putrid, faeces-infested green sludge from the lake live on TV, providing Guatemala’s citizens with some primetime entertainment which, given that they are the ones who will ultimately have to pay for this mess, is the least that they deserve.


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