Guatemala’s fight against corruption is in danger after President Morales attempted to expel the head of a uniquely effective UN-backed anti-corruption organisation. In this Q&A, Crisis Group’s Analyst for Guatemala Arturo Matute says a corrupt elite is waging a battle to maintain its privileged position.
Political crisis pitting citizens defending anti-corruption campaign and International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) against Congress and President Morales continued. Congress 11 Sept upheld president’s immunity from prosecution; 13 Sept altered agenda of Congress’ ordinary session and overwhelmingly approved reforms to penal code under the pretext of “national urgency”. Reforms included modifications to rules on illegal financing of politics clearing prominent party leaders from investigations for possible wrongdoing during 2015 campaign, making jail sentences for corruption crimes commutable for fines. Widespread perception of Congress’ actions as impunity pact among political class produced outrage, mobilising thousands to protest. Constitutional Court 14 Sept ruled Congress’ decisions unlawful. Congress met next day to backtrack; hundreds of protesters stopped deputies from leaving premises for nine hours. Series of marches against deputies took place across country 20 Sept, drawing estimated 200,000 people; several govt ministers resigned 19 Sept. Congress 21 Sept again voted to uphold president’s immunity from prosecution but kept request available for future consideration. Revelations emerged 12 Sept of $6,850 monthly bonus paid to President Morales by defence ministry, further undermining support for president.
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.
To stem the violence that kills thousands of Guatemalans each year, the government must find the resources and will to carry out long-stalled reforms of the national police.
Originally published in Los Angeles Times
Originally published in Miami Herald
Originally published in Semana