By Kaelyn DeVries
Operating in Guatemala for over a decade, the CICIG has played an integral role in dismantling corruption schemes at the highest level of government and strengthening the capacity of Guatemalan justice sector institutions to take the lead on anti-corruption and impunity measures. However, recent high-profile cases have spurred tensions between the UN-supported body and the Government of Guatemala. On August 31, 2018, in a symbolic show of defiance just weeks before Guatemala celebrated its independence, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales announced his intentions to negate renewal of the organization’s mandate in the country. Many observers saw Morales’ position as a blow to recent advances in democratic institutional legitimacy and a reminder of the fragility of a country still in recovery from a gruesome civil war period marked by limited economic prosperity and rampant human rights violations against citizens.
The CICIG has an important history in Guatemala. Following the 2015 ouster of ex-president Otto Perez Molina, a process that was driven by investigations led by the CICIG, Guatemalan civil society attended public protests in numbers not seen since before the civil war. The unprecedented scale of civil intolerance for corrupt elites gained support from even the private sector, who closed up shop so dissenters could attend the protests. At the time, international institutions, including the U.S. government, praised Guatemala’s perseverance on the issue.
But support for CICIG from the U.S. government under Donald Trump has been scant, particularly as members of Morales’ cabinet have heavily lobbied for support of Morales and the slow but steady delegitimization of the CICIG. Since August 2018, Morales has moved swiftly to end the mandate of the CICIG in Guatemala. In December of 2018 he terminated the visas of international employees of the CICIG and in the months prior, he had declared its Commissioner, Ivan Velazquez, a persona non grata in the country (Ivan Velazquez has not been allowed to return to Guatemala). In early January 2019, Morales then unilaterally ended the contract of the CICIG, spouting a slew of allegations against the commission, including falsely claiming that it has aligned itself with criminal networks and “terrorists.”
Despite the Guatemalan Constitutional Court (CC) blocking Jimmy Morales’ decision to expel the CICIG and its staff, Morales and his supporters have stood firm. According to Guatemalan Human Rights Prosecutor, Jordan Rojas, this is a cause for major concern, saying that the Government of Guatemala is obligated to comply with the CC’s ruling and their defiance hurts the country’s ability to uphold the rule of law. Meanwhile, in a show of good faith, Ivan Velazquez has offered to step down as Commissioner under the pretense that the CICIG is allowed to continue its work, at least until September 2019, when its contract is up. In the coming weeks, and with the 2019 presidential elections in Guatemala looming, we will be keeping a keen eye on Jimmy Morales and Guatemala.
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