The Stream

Can an anti-corruption drive in Guatemala survive?

Protesters urge President Jimmy Morales to stop blocking work of international commission on serious crime.

Thousands of people across Guatemala are urging that the country’s president and other government officials step down, following government efforts to shut down a UN-backed commission on serious crime that has largely focused on tackling corruption.

President Jimmy Morales’ already tough stance against the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) hardened on September 17 when the government said it would continue to block Ivan Velasquez, the head of CICIG, from re-entering Guatemala. The government’s position is in blunt defiance of a unanimous constitutional court ruling issued on September 16 that Velasquez should be allowed back into the country.

Morales’ move to block Velasquez from entering Guatemala came just days after he declared he would not renew a mandate allowing CICIG to operate in Guatemala beyond September 2019. The UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has since asked Velasquez to name a deputy who will be permitted entry to the country.

Morales came to power in 2015, soon after president Otto Perez Molina resigned amid allegations of corruption presented by CICIG and Guatemalan prosecutors. But when the commission turned its eye on Morales and his family and associates amid accusations of illegal campaign financing, Morales declared Velasquez person non-grata, setting the stage for the current crisis.

Since it was ratified in 2007 CICIG has helped investigate corruption and other criminal activity, while granting technical assistance to Guatemalan law agencies. As well as helping prosecute a former president, it has led investigations against dozens of public officials, judges, and executives in a country with a shaky record on transparency. CICIG has earned the respect of millions of Guatemalans tired of corruption and graft, and is now the country’s most trusted institution – ahead of the media, Public Ministry, government and congress.

In recent days troops have patrolled Guatemalan streets as protests against Morales have swelled. The sight of the military has unnerved Guatemalans still dealing with the bloody legacy of decades of military dictatorship and civil war. Yet thousands of people, many from indigenous communities, have maintained their vociferous public support of CICIG, while urging Morales to resign.

With Guatemala at an apparent crossroads between democratic governance and autocracy, The Stream will consider what lies in store for the country. Join the conversation.

On this episode of The Stream, we speak with:

David Mercer @ricochetprods

Ramon Cadena
Human Rights Lawyer

Luis Barrueto @lebarrueto
Activist, Justicia Ya

Read more:
Why Is Trump tacitly supporting corruption in Guatemala? – The New York Times
5 ways the Guatemalan government Is trying to dismantle CICIG – Americas Quarterly

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