Goodbye to CICIG: is fight against corruption ending in Guatemala?

Days ago, United Nations members, judges, civil society leaders, and former officials met in Guatemala to say goodbye to the UN commission against impunity, after, in 2018, President Jimmy Morales put an end to his mandate when his own family felt the rigor of his management.

National shield outside of congress.

National shield outside of congress. / Via REUTERS

Reuters | Sofia Menchu y Diego Oré

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Leer en español: Adiós a la CICIG: ¿se acaba la lucha contra la corrupción en Guatemala?

In the event, which lasted two days, there were no members of the country's political or business elite, which has raised doubts about whether the new government will follow the legacy of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), or its banishment It will allow a setback in justice.

Several judges told Reuters that without CICIG, one of the most successful anti-corruption institutions in Latin America, it will be difficult for them to continue with some 70 important judicial processes due to threats against them, reduction of personnel and lack of transfer of capacities from CICIG.

"The fight against corruption is weakened," Haroldo Vásquez, a judge for two decades and president of the Association of Judges for Integrity, told Reuters, a space where dozens of lawyers support and repel attacks against their work.

"Justice and judicial independence are not issues that interest many in the Government," added the lawyer who has taken several cases supported by CICIG.

In its 12 years in Guatemala, CICIG traced an X-ray of corruption in the country, helped strengthen courts and professionalized the Public Ministry. But Guatemalans evoke it for sending powerful politicians and businessmen to prison.

The most emblematic case that CICIG unveiled was the one known as "The Line", a customs fraud network commanded by then President Otto Pérez Molina and his former Vice President Roxana Baldetti. The investigation, which took both of them to prison in 2015, shook the country's political class.

Seven out of 10 recently interviewed by the firm Prodatos approve the work of the Commission, but the president-elect, Alejandro Giammattei, has said he will not restore his mandate, which expires on September 3, and will seek a local option to fight corruption.

But many believe that the road will be uphill.

"Those who intend to return to the realm of impunity should know that the recoil of justice will also impact negatively on the economy and governance," said Colombian Ivan Ivásquez, head of the CICIG, last week at the event of Farewell to the UN commission.

Moody's warned in January that the expulsion of CICIG was "negative" for the sovereign credit of Guatemala and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said in May that there is a risk that "weakening in the fight against corruption undermines the prospects of investment".

Giammattei was imprisoned in 2010 for a CICIG accusation of a massacre inside a prison when he was director of the prison system between 2005 and 2007. Ten months later he was released due to lack of evidence.

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"They will pay"

In 2007, a panel of international prosecutors of the Commission landed in Guatemala. It's objective: to work together with the Public Ministry to strengthen the rule of law and combat the criminal networks encysted in the country after more than 30 years of civil war.

It was a risky experiment, but the Oscar Berger government was willing to give up some ground in the pursuit of justice in view of the fragile Guatemalan democracy, the weakness of its institutions and the extensive corruption.

The investigations involved two former presidents, a former vice president, magistrates, almost two dozen former ministers, and several deputies. But after involving Morales himself and his family, the president put an end to the management of the CICIG and banned his investigators from entering the country.

Since then, the transfer of capacities to the Special Prosecutor Against Impunity (FECI) - created under the CICIG umbrella - and to other state institutions, but commission investigators and judges assure that it did not happen or was defective, which puts at risk about 70 active cases.

"The transfer of capabilities did not take place," said Judge Miguel Ángel Gálvez, who has been in charge of important corruption investigations led by CICIG. "The prosecutor is putting a lot of people into the FECI ... How are they going to understand very extensive investigations?" He asked.

Galvez, 61, and head of a court that handles high-impact cases predicted that in the future the hearings will be "more inefficient" due to the lack of transfer of skills, reduction of personnel and because the size and complexity of the files prevent that can be pronounced in a short time.

However, the CICIG spokesman, Matías Ponce, said that the transfer of capabilities "has taken place permanently" although he added that it has not been "consolidated" since the commission's lawyers have not become part of FECI.

In addition, dozens of judges have denounced that since the end of the Commission was announced the threats against them have worsened: from colleagues who challenge them with opening processes to intimidating phone calls and follow-ups.

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"The attacks on the justice operators have increased: we have seen messages saying that we should be dead outside the country," Judge Erika Aifán confessed.

The lawyer said that the Supreme Court knows about the threats but has not acted. The country's largest court did not respond to a request for comment from Reuters.

"In politics, if you are going to attack you should never leave injured. Now we have the list of investigators and prosecutors who are going to pay us for being such bad people with all of us," a politician who was imprisoned later told Reuters. of an investigation by CICIG and that requested anonymity.

Judges, CICIG investigators, and former prosecutors agreed that the next Government must guarantee judicial independence so as not to spoil the work of the Commission in one of the countries with the greatest impunity in the world.

"Sometimes, it seems that many want an ad hoc judge, accommodated to their intentions, their interests," Judge Haroldo Vásquez lamented. "But we have to keep fighting, we have to keep working. We are here until the last because we don't know how to do anything else."

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