Guatemala has made significant advances over the past decade in combating organized crime and corruption, in great part thanks to the assistance provided by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG by its Spanish acronym), a United Nations-backed initiative. The CICIG was created in 2006 to help local institutions dismantle criminal networks embedded in the state apparatus. Recently, the CICIG has become the target of baseless claims that it colluded with Russia, an accusation that has gained traction among a small group of U.S. legislators and has also provided longtime enemies of the CICIG with a new way to undermine support for the commission. As WOLA Director for Citizen Security Adriana Beltrán argues in a new piece for Foreign Affairs, reducing U.S. support for one of the world’s most successful anti-corruption initiatives would create serious risks both to Central American regional security, as well as U.S. security interests.
As Beltrán describes, the CICIG has been instrumental to the successful dismantling of criminal networks, reducing criminality, and helping to strengthen the investigative capacity of local institutions. Beltrán explains how the CICIG has made powerful enemies in Guatemala after supporting a series of successful corruption probes in conjunction with the Attorney General’s Office. Most recently, anti-CICIG campaigners have used a case involving massive immigration fraud to spread a false narrative about how Russia has unduly influenced the commission. This false narrative concerned the Bitkovs, a Russian family who were among those convicted in the immigration fraud probe. Despite a lack of evidence, these accusations have resulted in the U.S. Senate placing a hold on $6 million in funding to the CICIG.
As Beltrán puts it, the U.S. Congress now faces a choice: become distracted by a groundless disinformation campaign, or continue to support an initiative which is helping curtail the rampant violence and organized crime driving irregular migration from Guatemala to the U.S.-Mexico border.