President Jimmy Morales has made good on his promise to shut down a UN-backed commission fighting rampant crime and impunity in Guatemala. Though it leaves a vital legacy, the commission’s exit risks strengthening the hand of criminal networks that operate with state complicity.
President Giammattei dismissed health minister over allegations of mismanagement of COVID-19 crisis, while tensions with U.S. persisted over deportation of migrants. Giammattei 19 June replaced health minister and three other Ministry officials; move followed investigation by Presidential Commission against Corruption into Ministry’s alleged mismanagement of COVID-19 pandemic, including creation of ghost jobs – salaries collected without work being performed – and hiring of unqualified people, and newspaper Prensa Libre’s 6 June accusation that Ministry had manipulated numbers of reported COVID-19 infections and deaths. Meanwhile, police reported they had arrested 24,800 people for violating COVID-19 lockdown 22 March-13 June. Amid concerns over potential spread of virus in overcrowded prisons, director of prison system 16 June said eight prisoners had died from COVID-19. Police 2 June reported improving security with 978 homicides Jan-May 2020, compared to 1,515 in same period last year. Criminal violence and local conflicts however continued. Notably, alleged smugglers 4 June set up roadblocks and attacked police precinct in San Marcos city (west). Violence also persisted in Sololá department (south), where govt imposed state of emergency in three municipalities late May following deadly clashes over longstanding territorial dispute; after renewed clashes there 11 June left two dead, govt 25 June extended state of emergency for 30 days. Tensions with U.S. remained high over continued deportation flights amid COVID-19 pandemic and despite broader restrictions on international flights. U.S. under-secretary of state 5 June stated flights would continue; authorities reported 159 deportations 1-15 June; govt 23 June reported six new deportees tested positive for COVID-19.
Next year, President Jimmy Morales vows he will end the mandate of the UN-backed Commission against Impunity in Guatemala. Hugely popular, the commission has helped reduce the country’s terrible murder rate. To keep it going, its supporters should refocus on fighting the worst violent crime.
Central American gangs are responsible for brutal acts of violence, abuse of women and forced displacement of thousands. Governments must go beyond punitive measures and address the social and economic roots of gang culture, tackle extortion schemes and invest in communities.
Dramatic changes upended Guatemalan politics in 2015. Forcing the pace were international prosecutors, bolstered in their fight against corruption and impunity by a great wave of support from ordinary citizens. If Guatemala’s national reforms continue when outside help leaves, it can become a true role model for the region.
Ending bloodshed in this neglected border region requires more than task forces: credible institutions, access to state services and continuing security are also needed.
Ensuring a prompt and fair retrial of former dictator José Efraín Ríos Montt is crucial to finally bringing justice to victims of the armed conflict and to reconciling a fragile democracy with its citizens.
The killing of protestors last October was a tragedy foretold by those who have long warned against Guatemala’s use of the armed forces to maintain domestic peace.
Guatemala struggles to adhere to the rule of law. Criminal actors have ways of influencing government decisions that do not produce good conditions for investment or for economic activity in general.
As the coronavirus spreads, and the U.S. presidential election looms, the Trump administration and Mexican government continue to deport migrants from El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras. Some deportees are carrying the virus. Central American states should press their northern neighbours for more stringent health measures.
A year after the election of would-be reformer Jimmy Morales as president, corruption investigations are casting a shadow over his inner circle. Recent appointments bring youth and oxygen to his faltering administration, but much still stands in the way of political renewal.
Originally published in Los Angeles Times