WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
30 Jul 2015 | News

Statement by U.S. Representative Jim McGovern Supporting an End to Corruption in Guatemala

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Support an End to Corruption in Guatemala
Hon. James P. McGovern of Massachusetts in the House of Representatives
Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Mr. MCGOVERN. Mr. Speaker, one year ago, a surge of unaccompanied child migrants from Central America was front-page news. Although that humanitarian crisis at our borders appears to have abated, the difficulties and life-threatening challenges faced by many citizens in Central America continue. The region urgently needs support in order to address the root causes of out migration—economic and social inequality, insecurity and injustice.

It is encouraging that the Obama Administration has worked with the governments of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras to present a request for $1 billion to tackle the structural and multidimensional causes of migration through investments and programs to create jobs, expand education and social protection, strengthen public security and the judicial system, and improve transparency and efficiency in public administration. Congress is now considering this aid package in the House and Senate versions of the FY 2016 State and Foreign Operations Appropriations bills. While I support the overall amount of the request, I do have concerns about how best to target funds so that they reach vulnerable and poor communities, and especially youth and families in those communities, who are most in need of support, while at the same time strengthening human rights and judicial systems in each of these countries.

In this context, I believe it is important to focus attention on the situation in Guatemala, which today is facing a critical juncture. Recent revelations of cases of widespread and deep-seated corruption in Guatemala raise serious concerns about the capacity of that government to be an effective partner in reducing poverty and inequality in the region. Evidence of massive and shameless looting of the state by high level Guatemalan officials in the Perez Molina government, the legislature and political parties has sparked a remarkable citizen mobilization. What started as urban, middle class protests organized through social media networks has morphed into nationwide demonstrations demanding the resignation of President Perez Molina, and the immediate passage and implementation of fundamental reforms to electoral, judicial, civil service, and procurement systems. Some are calling for a ‘government of national renovation’ as a transition to begin to renew the political leadership and help restore citizen confidence in government.

I want to honor this unprecedented, continuing, and fearless rise of the Guatemalan people—students, people of all ethnic and religious groups, civil society organizations, and ordinary citizens of all ages are coming together with a common agenda against corruption and in favor of reform. That said, I note that frustration is growing as proposed reforms supported by the National Platform for Reform of the State—a coalition of over 100 civil society and academic organizations—are not progressing as demanded. And there are legitimate concerns expressed by civil society organizations that national elections scheduled for September 6th will take place in an environment that will enable fraud through illicit financing and in which threats will be used to intimidate voters. In this crucial moment, every citizen who is speaking out peacefully needs to be protected, defended and encouraged.

I also want to recognize the brave and excellent work of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, CICIG, whose technical capacity has supported the bold investigative initiatives undertaken by the Guatemalan Attorney General’s office to uproot corruption. When CICIG was established in 2007, it was described as a choice between the past and future. Guatemala recognized that it needed help controlling illegal, clandestine and corrupt power structures in the post-conflict years. CICIG is now at the heart of this challenging but potentially promising moment in Guatemala’s history. Together with civil society and some dedicated leaders in Guatemala’s justice system, the good women and men of CICIG are playing a critical role in helping move Guatemala towards justice and a better future. They, too, need protection and encouragement to keep up the good work.

Clearly, the next few weeks and months are critically important as the Guatemalan people work to figure out how to best address the challenges they face. At this important juncture, I urge the Obama Administration, including our U.S. diplomats and other agency representatives in Guatemala, to do their utmost to support Guatemalan civil society efforts to hold their own government accountable. Over the next weeks and months we will see whether Guatemala is capable of carrying out real change and moving closer to establishing a just, accountable and increasingly secure, equitable and prosperous country for all its citizens.