The head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN-supported body set up to investigate organized crime in Guatemala, resigned in frustration on Monday June 7th. Carlos Castresana, the head of the CICIG told the press in Guatemala City, “Nothing that was promised is being done.” Castresana criticized a number of Guatemalan institutions, including the country’s legislature and Attorney General, saying that the government of Guatemala had not shown enough political will.
“Castresana’s statement raises questions about whether the Guatemalan government is serious about combating organized crime, corruption and impunity,” said Adriana Beltrán, organized crime expert at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and co-author of Hidden Powers, which exposed the infiltration of criminal networks in Guatemala’s state institutions.
The CICIG’s courageous work has led to the successful investigation of high-profile cases, the arrest of dozens of government officials and ex-military officers, and the purge of thousands of police officers linked to illegal groups. Despite the CICIG’s progress the Guatemalan authorities have been slow to respond. The government has yet to create the maximum security prison recommended by the CICIG and has done little to advance the much needed police reform. The legislature has not approved the anti-impunity legal reforms suggested by the Commission and the judiciary has yet to implement the high security tribunals to try sensitive organized crime cases. Furthermore, Castresana has accused the new Attorney General of undermining the Commission’s investigations.
“President Colom has said all the right things in support of the elimination of impunity. However, across the board the three branches of government have failed to implement key CICIG recommendations,” said Beltran.
The UN-led CICIG was created three years ago at the request of the Guatemalan government and with the approval of the Guatemalan legislature. Carlos Castresana, an internationally respected Spanish jurist and organized crime prosecutor, was appointed its director, and its staff is a mix of international and Guatemalan experts. The CICIG was intended to be insulated from the political pressures in Guatemala so that it could aid the Attorney General to investigate sensitive cases of corruption, organized crime, and criminal infiltration of the state.
At the time of its creation, the donor community applauded the Guatemalan government’s willingness to endorse the CICIG. The US, the Spanish, and other European governments have provided special funding for the CICIG, and offered technical assistance and support. The Commission has investigated several highly sensitive cases; recently, it has recommended that criminal charges be filed against former Guatemalan President, Alfonso Portillo.
“In a part of the world where criminal justice systems have never worked well, and where influential people often manipulate the police, the prosecutors, and the courts, the CICIG represents an unprecedented effort to prosecute sensitive cases of organized crime and corruption,” said Beltrán. “Now it looks like that effort has been stymied.”
According to Beltrán,“For Guatemala to show that it’s serious about fighting organized crime, it has to prove that it’s committed to the CICIG. It is imperative that UN Secretary General, Ban Ki Moon, appoint someone that will be as dedicated a criminal investigator and prosecutor as Castresana has been. The government of Guatemala needs to back the CICIG itself and put a stop to the interference from the Attorney General. The Guatemalan legislature and the judiciary must act on implementing the CICIG’s recommendations to reform laws and establish special courts.”
“The US and other countries are investing millions of dollars in strengthening the police and judiciary in Guatemala,” said Beltrán noting the US government’s Central American Regional Security Initiative (CARSI) and other security assistance packages.“The Guatemalan government risks losing the support of international donors who might become skeptical about committing resources to a government that is not serious about fighting crime and corruption,” concluded Beltrán.
Senior Associate for Citizen Security