Guatemala shows how a beleaguered citizenry can fight a thoroughly corrupt leadership. A joint United Nations/Guatemalan agency, known by its Spanish initials CICIG, has for several years been waging all out war against corruption in Guatemala (details here). Besides winning corruption convictions against countless senior politicians and military leaders, its investigations led to the 2015 ouster of then President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti for orchestrating a massive corruption scheme in customs. CICIG has been able to withstand the inevitable backlash that cases against the powerful generate thanks to a remarkable alliance between Guatemalans fed up with corruption and impunity and those in the international community willing to provide not only financial support but political backing too.
Fearing he is about to become the target of a CICIG investigation, Guatemala’s current president Jimmy Moralesis is testing the strength of the alliance. On August 26 he issued a decree expelling CICIG’s head, claiming the commission was compromising the country’s sovereignty. Given Guatemala’s experience with foreign intervention, one would expect his claim to resonate, but so far outside far right circles it has gained little traction. The day after his order issued the Guatemalan Constitutional Court granted an amparo (protective order) staying the expulsion order pending a hearing on its lawfulness. Guatemalans have taken to the streets, and commentators to the airwaves and op-ed pages, to protest Morales’ action.
International backers of CICIG have come to its defense too. The U.N. Secretary General, the U.S. State Department, the European Union, and the Latin American Association of Ombudsmen have all denounced Morales’ order. CICIG’s most important international ally may well be U.S. Congresswoman Norma Torres. Guatemalan by birth, she is a leading voice on U.S. policy towards Guatemala, from shaping a responsible foreign assistance program, to devising a humane immigration policy, to supporting the fight against corruption. In an August 29 opinion piece in a Guatemalan daily (reprinted below in English) she not only strongly backed CICIG but reminded Morales his actions were putting millions of dollars of U.S. aid at risk. However much cheap demagoguery about foreign intervention and “Yankee imperialism” might undermine the credibility of CICIG’s other international supporters, the Congresswoman would seem immune.
Guatemala is a model for how a small country stuck with entrenched, powerful and corrupt leaders can mobilize international organizations, friendly governments, and key members of the diaspora to help purge the nation of corruption. The outcome of the showdown between President Moralies and that alliance in Guatemala will be a critical test of the model’s viability.
Iván Velásquez and the Future of Guatemala
by Congresswoman Norma Torres
Like many chapines [Guatemalans] in Guatemala and abroad, I was shocked and dismayed by President Morales’s decision to declare Iván Velásquez “persona non grata.” This decision is not only a devastating step back in the progress that has been made in anti-corruption efforts, it will delay justice in the important investigations and that are currently underway. It may also have lasting repercussions for Guatemala’s future by putting at risk millions of dollars in critical assistance. Continue reading