Unproven, implausible allegations about Russian meddling in Guatemala’s judicial system threaten one of the most innovative and successful efforts to curb grand corruption now underway. The Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, a hybrid UN-Guatemalan investigative agency known by its Spanish initials CICIG, has made enormous progress taming grand corruption, drug trafficking, the wholesale murder of indigenous people, and other crimes committed by an insular elite who, until the advent of CICIG, operated without fear of prosecution. CICIG’s success rests on its independence from Guatemala’s corrupt elite, both in the investigators it hires, often from other Spanish-speaking countries with no ties to anyone in Guatemala, and its funding, a significant portion of which is provided by the U.S. Congress. Thanks to these conditions, it has presented Guatemalan prosecutors with air-tight cases against former presidents, vice-presidents, ministers, and senior military and civil servants.
CICIG’s American funding is now in doubt thanks to a story those most in danger from CICIG sold Wall Street Journal opinion writer Mary O’ Grady. O’Grady wrote in March that CICIG took money from Russian interests to push the prosecution of Russian dissidents who emigrated to Guatemala. O’Grady’s story caught the attention of several in Congress who now question whether the U.S. should continue supporting CICIG. Thankfully, the story has not gone unanswered. A wave of stories knocking it down and noting its origin among the very elite in CICIG’s cross-hairs has appeared in, among other outlets, the Economist (here), the Washington Post (here), and the Guatemalan media (here and here [Spanish]. The American Bar Association (here) sharply questioned the premises underpinning O’Grady’s claims.
The latest support for CICIG comes from a former Guatemalan vice president and several former foreign ministers and ambassadors in a letter to the U.S. Congress. The letter itself is a welcome sign that a new elite is rising that is not afraid to counter the old corrupt elite. In it they write forcefully of CICIG’s critical importance to the well-being of Guatemala’s citizens: