Washington, DC— Yesterday, the leadership of the House Foreign Affairs Committee issued a letter calling on Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to use the authority under the Global Magnitsky Act and place a ban on visas for Guatemalan individuals “committing or facilitating acts of corruption.” The letter also urges the State Department to hold assistance to the government of Guatemala until “significant improvements are seen.”
The letter came in response to recent attempts to undermine anti-corruption efforts in Guatemala, including President Morales’ decision to declare the head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Iván Velásquez, persona non grata. Since 2015, the CICIG and the Guatemalan Attorney General’s Office have investigated several high profile corruption cases involving government officials, politicians, military and police officers, and members of the private sector, revealing the depth of corruption in Guatemala.
In their letter, Chairman of the Committee Ed Royce (R-CA) and Ranking Minority Member Eliot Engel (D-NY) mention the action taken by the Guatemalan Congress to pass legislation that would’ve curbed penalties for illicit campaign financing among other illegal activities, as grounds for their request to implement a visa ban. The letter says: “Fortunately, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, acted swiftly to suspend the legislation, but the damage has already been done.”
“The U.S. Congress has been a strong ally of the CICIG, the Attorney General and the fight against corruption and impunity. They will continue to denounce attempts to debilitate these efforts and ensure that U.S. assistance only supports those governments that show a clear commitment to strengthening the rule of law.” said Adriana Beltrán, Senior Associate for Citizen Security at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA).
Enacted in 2016, the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act authorizes the President to impose visa bans and targeted sanctions on individuals responsible for committing human rights violations or acts of significant corruption, including the expropriation of private or public assets for personal gain, corruption in government contracts or natural resource extraction, bribery, or the offshore sheltering of ill-gotten gains.”
In 2015, the U.S. Congress allocated $750 million to Central America to help the region address the high levels of violence, poor governance, and poverty. Earlier this year, Congress appropriated an additional $605 million and is currently discussing additional assistance. “The letter is another clear example that addressing corruption in the region is a priority for members of both sides of aisle,” said Beltrán.