Guatemala prosecutors target lawmakers over racism complaint

Prosecutors are seeking to have the immunity of office withdrawn from eight Guatemalan lawmakers over a complaint of racially tinged insults directed at an indigenous governor, officials said Thursday.

Alta Verapaz Gov. Estela Ventura made the complaint in connection with an April 5 meeting with members of President Jimmy Morales' National Convergence Force party, who she says tried to get her to award contracts to companies tied to them and insulted her.

The meeting was not open to the media, but prosecutor Ligia Alvaro said the legislators told Ventura that "they were the ones in charge" and called her a "stupid Indian."

Mayra Veliz, secretary-general of the prosecutor's office, said her office is asking the Supreme Court to lift the lawmakers' immunity from criminal prosecution. She said they could be charged with discrimination, abuse of authority, extortion and influence-trafficking.

The lawmakers implicated include the head of the Women's Commission, who allegedly was the one who insulted Ventura.

Another one of the legislators, Oscar Rolando Corleto, told journalists: "All due respect, but that is democracy. It is her word against ours."

Morales, who appoints the governors of Guatemala's 22 departments to serve as local representatives of his government, said last week that he supports their work and will not allow them to be pressured.