The most innovative experiment in the fight against corruption in memory ended last week with the closing down of Guatemala’s impunity commission. Known as CICIG after its Spanish initials, the commission enjoyed tremendous success over its ten plus year life, securing the conviction of dozens of senior military and political leaders, forcing a sitting president and vice president to resign over corruption charges, and most importantly, showing Guatemalans their leaders were not beyond the law’s reach. The commission ceased operating Wednesday after outgoing President Jimmy Morales, whom the commission was investigating for campaign finance violations, refused to renew its mandate.
Although Guatemala’s corrupt elite finally succeeded in killing the commission, the innovation behind the commission’s success is very much alive. Prompted by CICIG’s success, neighboring Honduras created its own CICIG-like commission, and last Friday, less than 48 hours after CICIG shut down, El Salvador’s newly-elected president established a Salvadorian version of CICIG. Across the Atlantic, independent of developments in Central America, Ukraine is pioneering a similar ground-breaking approach to fighting corruption which Moldovans are considering copying.
What all four countries have in common is a corrupt ruling class able to stymie the enforcement of the anticorruption laws. CICIG’s creators were the first to recognize that outside pressure alone was never going to change this dynamic. No matter how much diplomatic and economic pressure the international community brought to bear, Guatemalan investigators, prosecutors, and judges were never going to tame grand corruption by themselves. Some were themselves corrupt or corruptible; others were honest but unwilling to cross corrupt friends and relatives, and still others feared for their life or the lives of their families if they opened a case. The CICIG solution? Continue reading