WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
8 Mar 2019 | Press Release

U.S. Congress Takes Steps to Sanction Guatemalans Facilitating Corruption

House, Senate Introduce the “Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act”

Washington, DC—On March 7, both chambers of the U.S. Congress introduced the “Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act,” which requires President Trump to pursue sanctions against Guatemalan individuals, public officials or private citizens, who have committed or facilitated corruption-related crimes. Led by Representatives Norma Torres (D-Ca.) and James McGovern (D-Ma.) in the House and Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) in the Senate, thus far the bill has 28 cosponsors.

The bill stipulates that an individual or public official may be subjected to financial and travel sanctions as outlined by the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act no later than 90 days after enactment for knowingly committing or facilitating crimes of corruption, money laundering, narcotrafficking; obstructing investigations or prosecutions of these cases; misusing U.S. donated equipment; disobeying rulings made by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court; or interfering with the work of U.S. agencies or institutions or entities that receive funds from the United States, including the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG, by its Spanish initials).

“The Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act is a comprehensive and timely piece of legislation, that, if implemented, would help avoid serious setbacks to democracy and judicial independence currently unfolding in Guatemala,” said Adriana Beltrán, Director for Citizen Security at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA). “These setbacks include measures that seek to free those responsible for committing grave human rights violations during the armed conflict, ending ongoing criminal proceedings and eliminating the possibility of future investigations into such crimes.”

Over the last two years, the government of Guatemala has taken a series of measures to reverse the progress made in tackling corruption and strengthening the rule of law. Furthermore, members of the president’s family and some of his closest allies are under investigation or are being prosecuted for crimes related to corruption and human rights violations. By unilaterally ending the mandate of UN-backed anti-corruption initiative the CICIG, the government has tried to put an end to several high-profile and politically sensitive investigations that received investigative support from the commission.

“In Guatemala, large-scale corruption at both the national and local levels of government impedes the country’s ability to provide basic services for its most vulnerable citizens,” said Beltrán. “The Act underscores the concern of many Members of Congress about the corrosive impact of corruption and a recognition that strengthening the rule of law is critical to building a more prosperous and secure Guatemala.”

The Guatemalan government’s inability to improve the well-being of its citizens—a phenomenon exacerbated by corruption and weak institutions—is evidenced in recent data showing that extreme poverty in the country is increasing, while school enrollment has dropped. As social and economic conditions continue to worsen for Guatemala’s rural and indigenous population, this has helped drive a recent wave of migration to the U.S.-Mexico border.

Thus far the Act is sponsored by:


Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Il.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)


Representatives Norma Torres (D-Ca), James McGovern (D-Ma), Alan Lowenthal (D-Ca.), Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), Deb Haaland (D-N.M.), Bobby L. Rush (D-Ill.), David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Mark Pocan (D-WI), Andy Levin (D-Miss.), Jim Himes (D-Conn.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), Barbara Lee (D-Ca.), Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), Adriano Espaillat (D-N.Y.), Jared Huffman (D-Ca.), Grace Napolitano (D-Ca.), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC), Don Beyer (D-Va.), Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.), Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), Ruben Gallego (D-Ariz.), Peter A. DeFazio (D-Ore.), and Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.)