President Morales’ Actions Demand a Firm Response from the U.S. and International Community
Washington, DC—On September 4, the Guatemalan government declared Commissioner Iván Velásquez, head of anti-corruption body the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a “public security threat” and ordered immigration authorities to block Velásquez from re-entering the country. Last week, speaking with dozens of Guatemalan military and police at his side, President Jimmy Morales announced that he would not renew the mandate of the CICIG, which expires in September 2019. The announcements come amid an intensifying probe into Morales and his allies for alleged corruption. According to leading research and advocacy group the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), which has studied the efficacy of the CICIG, Morales’ actions represent a serious threat to democracy and the rule of law in Guatemala, and violate the ruling of the country’s Constitutional Court and its agreement with the United Nations.
“Commissioner Iván Velásquez and CICIG have had real impact in the fight for justice in Guatemala. Their efforts have been instrumental in exposing criminal networks that have co-opted the state,” said WOLA Director for Citizen Security Adriana Beltrán. “Morales isn’t acting in the interest of the Guatemalan people. He’s trying to obstruct justice and avoid accountability for himself and his allies in the face of ongoing investigations for corruption,” said Beltrán.
Just minutes before Friday’s announcement, military grade vehicles donated by the U.S. Defense Department to combat drug trafficking and organized crime, were deployed outside of the CICIG offices, as well as several other embassies including the United States. Several weeks ago, Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office and the CICIG filed their third request before the Supreme Court to lift President Morales’ immunity so that he could be investigated for alleged campaign finance crimes. The Supreme Court allowed the request to move forward to Congress, which now needs to decide whether to lift his immunity.
“The attacks against the Commission and its efforts pose a serious risk to U.S. security interests and Central America regional security,” said Beltrán. “Combating systemic corruption is critical to curbing the violence, organized crime, and poverty driving irregular migration from the region.”
The U.S. government has invested at least $44.5 million in funding the CICIG since its creation in 2007. Furthermore, the United States has committed $159 million in funding to Guatemala so far for the 2017 fiscal year, of which $78.4 million has gone to supporting security, justice, violence prevention, and human rights initiatives in the country. Separately, $22.5 million in Defense Department funding has been allocated to counter-drug activities by Guatemala’s military, covering funding for equipment, training, and vehicles. It is unclear how much of the $615 million in Central America aid, approved by Congress for FY2018, will eventually be allocated for Guatemala, while FY2019 assistance is still under debate.
“The attacks against the CICIG represent a slap in the face to the U.S. government, which has invested millions in Central America over the past decade in order to improve conditions in the region. The United States should suspend assistance to the Guatemalan government until there is a genuine commitment to combating corruption. The United States should use all the tools at its disposal against those who are seeking to undermine the fight against corruption,” said Beltrán.
There is broad consensus that the CICIG is one of the most successful mechanisms developed for combating corruption and organized crime. It has attracted strong praise from the United Nations, the European Union, as well as bipartisan support in the United States. Equally important, it has close to 70 percent support among Guatemalans, according to a 2017 poll.