Losing the fight against corruption and narco-trafficking in Guatemala

Losing the fight against corruption and narco-trafficking in Guatemala
© Getty Images

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales’ recent announcement that his government was terminating its agreement with the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala is a disaster for the people of Guatemala.

Morales and his allies for years have been undermining CICIG’s credibility, and this decision to expel CICIG staff will have long-term consequences not only for the people, but also for the United Nations and the United States.

ADVERTISEMENT

For more than a decade, CICIG has been an important partner alongside Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office in dismantling organized crime groups, battling corruption and impunity, and strengthening Guatemalan state institutions.

In its most recent report, CICIG reported that in the last 11 years, it had identified more than 60 Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses (Ciacs), presented more than 100 cases, prosecuted more than 680 people, and convicted 310 of them.

In short, CICIG became one of the international community’s most successful tools in the fight against corruption and was considered a model to be emulated elsewhere. But once CICIG’s investigations began to touch Morales and the country’s powerful economic elites, complaints about the organization’s operations were presented to United Nations Secretary General António Guterres.

Now, if Morales successfully expels CICIG, his victory will weaken the credibility of the United Nations’ anti-corruption efforts.

Through a combination of flattery, persuasion and intimidation, the Trump administration appears to have capitulated to the Guatemalan government’s preferences. Amid the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, Morales jokingly offered to help the United States build a wall along its border with Mexico.

According to the Hill, Morales said, “To the gentleman who wants to build a wall, I offer cheap labor.” He followed up with “"We have high quality labor, and we'll gladly build…Tell us the dimensions, and we know how to do it." Morales continued to cozy up to President TrumpDonald John TrumpAverage tax refunds down double-digits, IRS data shows White House warns Maduro as Venezuela orders partial closure of border with Colombia Trump administration directs 1,000 more troops to Mexican border MORE when he announced that Guatemala would, like the United States, move its Embassy to Jerusalem. Like Vice President Pence, President Morales is an Evangelical Christian.

A coalition of Guatemalan businessmen hired a U.S. lobbying firm to change the country’s image, and presumably that of CICIG, in Washington. After years of bipartisan support, Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioOn The Money: Dems set Tuesday vote on Trump's emergency declaration | Most Republicans expected to back Trump | Senate plots to avoid fall shutdown drama | Powell heading before Congress Brown, Rubio trade barbs over ‘dignity of work’ as Brown mulls presidential bid The Hill's Morning Report — Emergency declaration to test GOP loyalty to Trump MORE (R-Fla.) has become one of CICIG’s most outspoken foes. Other Republicans have followed suit after coming to believe Guatemalan political and economic elites’ criticisms that CICIG and Commissioner Iván Velásquez Gómez had overstepped their bounds

Our relative silence following Morales’ announcement of CICIG’s expulsion undermines our national interests. We need to support one of Latin America’s most successful efforts to strengthen the rule of law, fight narco-trafficking, encourage foreign direct investment, and reduce migration to the U.S.

Corruption is one of the main causes of migration to the United States. Former Vice President Joe Biden states that our failure to stand up against the Guatemalan government’s attacks against CICIG “could not have been a clearer message to kleptocrats throughout the region that the United States is no longer in the anti-corruption business. That hurts all of us.”

ADVERTISEMENT

But the most important people to consider regarding the future of CICIG is the Guatemalan people. Guatemala is one of the hemisphere’s poorer countries, with alarming numbers of indigenous and rural people living in extreme poverty.

Guatemalans have consistently supported CICIG. Until relatively recently, so has the United States.

Our government and the international community failed to defend democracy when it came under attack in Honduras and Nicaragua. The people of those two countries continue to suffer the consequences. It is not too late, however, to prevent the reversal of what progress has been made with the assistance of CICIG in Guatemala.

Michael EAllison is professor and chairman of the political science department at The University of Scranton.