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.
Alejandro Giammattei won second round of presidential election. In run-off vote 11 Aug, Giammattei of Vamos party won 58% of vote, beating 42% for Sandra Torres of Unidad Nacional de la Esperanza (UNE), turnout 42%; Giammattei will assume office Jan 2020. Giammattei 11 Aug reiterated he will not renew International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) whose mandate ends 3 Sept, instead creating new anti-corruption commission. Attorney General 13 Aug announced creation of 60-person technical unit to assist new anti-corruption body “Special Attorney against Impunity”, with CICIG spokesman raising concerns that unit does not contain any CICIG members. Following July U.S.-Guatemala “Safe Third Country” agreement requiring migrants who pass through country to first seek asylum there instead of U.S., Constitutional Court (CC) received official copy of accord from govt 9 Aug, in order for CC to make final decision on previous provisional ruling which blocked signing of agreement without congressional approval; Giammattei 13 Aug stated country had neither resources nor security to act as safe third country and reaffirmed deal must have U.S. and Guatemalan congressional approval. Minister of Interior Enrique Degenhart 22 Aug signed security cooperation agreement with U.S. on sharing biometric information of foreigners in or passing through Guatemala.
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.
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
Originally published in Miami Herald