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The attack on the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala

Interview: Colombian lawyer Iván Velásquez Gómez has been the international commissioner against impunity in Guatemala since 2013. Español

Protest against corruption in Guatemala demanding the resignation of the ex-president in 2015. Source: Wikimedia Commons. Todos los derechos reservados.

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (ICAIG) was created on the 12th of December 2006 through an agreement with the UN and the Guatemalan government, after a favourable ruling by the Constitutional Court. The agreement was approved later by the Guatemalan National Congress on the 1st of August 2007. 

The ICAIG was established as an independent international body with the intention of supporting the Public Ministry, the national police force and other state institutions, in their endeavours to investigate crimes committed by members of illegal organisations and clandestine security structures, to dismantle and charge these groups, and to strengthen institutions.

Since the commission was created, it has sentenced individuals for crimes against humanity and many others await sentencing for charges of corruption on a large scale.

It must be remembered that in Guatelama, an ex-president and an ex-vice-president are currently behind bars and many members of the military have been charged as responsible for massacres.

The prosecutor Iván Velásquez Gómez has a positive perspective regarding the acchievements of the ICAIG, the difficulties it has had to face throughout the previous years and the potential is has to acchieve substantial changes for Guatemala. 

José Zepeda: Undertaking the task of contributing to the normalisation of a rule of law that ensures justice is achieved and corrupt individuals are taken to court is without a doubt a costly task economically and politically.. 

Corrupt individuals have not stood idly by up against these legal actions declared against them and they are trying to get rid of the ICAIG and those who direct it in whatever way they can.

Iván Velásquez: In Guatemala there is huge citizen support which is entirely necessary to carry out our work, and more so now that there is a contradiction with the government. Without this support, it would have been impossible for us to function properly. We also have the backing of the international political community, from the likes of the USA, Sweden and the EU. 

JZ: Did you say contradiction with the government?

IV: In the wake of a judicial investigation, the son of the president, José Manuel Morales, and the brother of the governor, Samuel Morales Cabrera, have been implicated in a series of events relating to an entity linked to the previous government of the Patriotic Party.

The Property Registration Booty is a corruption case in which according to a report by the public ministry and the ICAIG, involved taking state funds under the premise of event simulation. 

This case determined a change in the attitude of the president Jimmy Morales regarding the activity of the Commission. The explicit support he had expressed during and after the electoral campaign began to diminish towards the end of 2016 and since January of 2017, when his family members were linked to the judicial process, his support has ceased to exist.

This generates certain difficulties even though the most important thing for the ICAIG is to count on the public ministry for support which is who we collaborate with when carrying out investigations to take down criminal organisations. Ever since I’ve been a part of the Commission this collaboration has been solid. 

There has just been a change with the Attorney General around May. Now we’re in a new stage of coupling with the new prosecutor María Consuelo Porras to continue our work. We trust that the new prosecutor will be eager and willing to contribute to the fight against corruption.

JZ: At this time, 6 million dollars, destined to finance the Comission, are frozen, as a result of the workings of the so called hidden powers.

Corrupt individuals have not stood idly by up against these legal actions declared against them and they are trying to get rid of the ICAIG and those who direct it in whatever way they can. Do you have confidence this will be resolved soon?

IV: Yes, I’m confident that it will be resolved very soon. There was an improper use of information from an investigation about a Russian family in which the ICAIG participated. Through fake news in the US, the ICAIG was labelled as a representative of Russian interests in Guatemala.

It was said that this family had arrived to Guatemala fleeing from persecution in Russia. However, the judicial analysis shows that after illegally entering the country, they bought three fake identities for 150,000 dollars.

This confrontation exists today between those who propose to sustain the current state of impunity that has existed for decades in Guatemala and the action of the Public Ministry.

These events and circumstances have been taken advantage of by people affected by the ICAIG’s investigations with a significant incidence on social networks. The distorted information that they generated eventually led to US senator Marco Rubio to request the freezing of funds destined to the ICAIG until the situation was cleared up.

We have informed these individuals of everything required, and we are convinced it will come to light that the accusations are completely false, and that the weight of the Commission, whose undertaking also interests the US in their fight against corruption in the northern triangle of Central America, will lead to the funds being released swiftly.

JZ: However, the retention of economic resources provokes a perverse effect: it sends a message that encourages corrupt individuals to continue…

IC: The message is negative because this shows it’s possible to affect serious, objective investigations that have substantial popular support through other non-judicial means. The message is that there are ways to affect judicial processes and the smooth functioning of the Commission.

JZ: It can’t be a coincidence that over these past days, important members of the Guatemalan Congress have raised their voice against non-governmental organisations, that impact on the development of the country, with the same old argument that they threaten national sovereignty.

IV: Of course, there’s a difficult situation in Guatemala currently. All sectors affected by the fight against impunity have embarked on a crusade against everything the movement has come to stand for, the campaign against impunity, and the fight against corruption.

The present moment is of great importance for the country and for a fight that consists of searching for the democratic conditions that allow the existence of rule of law to be affirmed, which is what the justice administration must contribute to.

This confrontation exists today between those who propose to sustain the current state of impunity that has existed for decades in Guatemala and the action of the Public Ministry, the collaboration of the international community through the ICAIG and the reaction of citizens with hope for transformation. We hope this will tip in favour of democracy.

JZ: In the context of this onslaught against the ICAIG, two key dates are approaching. The first in the month of August, in which your visa to remain in the country must be renewed. I have no doubt there will be plenty who will pressure for your visa to be denied..

There exists a serious danger that my visa won’t be renewed after the month of September. I hope the government acts in accordance with the order of the Constitutional Court from last year, when my expulsion from the country was ordered.

IV: Yes, of course. There exists a serious danger that my visa won’t be renewed after the month of September. I hope the government acts in accordance with the order of the Constitutional Court from last year, when my expulsion from the country was ordered.

The court declared that any discussion regarding the handling of the ICAIG and the Commission in Guatemala should be dealt with in New York, between the UN and the government.

We trust that this decision is respected by the Constitutional Court and that it doesn’t resort to mechanisms like that of not processing visas in preparation for my expulsion from Guatemala.

JZ: The second key date is this coming year, in which your mandate will be renovated.

IV: The 3rd of September is the end dare of the ICAIG mandate, unless the president requests that it continues which is the necessary means through which the UN and the Guatemalan government must foresee the extension of the mandate.

The circumstances are difficult because the ICAIG and the Public Ministry are carrying out an investigation into illicit electoral financing against the party currently in power and certain entrepreneurs that anonymously financed the presidential campaign in 2015 and the president of the public could become implicated in these claims.

If this link becomes a real possibility, the Public Ministry would have to formulate a preliminary trial request with the ICAIG before the Congress of the Republic. The effect this has on the president will no doubt influence the decision whether to renovate the mandate.

JZ: Guatemala has been profoundly affected by the eruption of the Volcán de Fuego last June. This has been a concern of the ICAIG because certain state representatives have stolen public money that should have been put towards providing the poorest sectors of the country with dignified living conditions.

IV: Out of all the issues relating to corruption that have been dealt with in Guatemala, there is a direct relationship with the deficient material conditions of the majority of the population. Levels of infant malnutrition in children under 4 are around 46% of this age group and these figures are completely unacceptable.

There’s a relationship between the misappropriation of public funds and the lack of action in searching for solutions in favour of disadvantaged communities, a relationship between corruption, human rights and impunity.

The situation is very serious. In other words, there’s a relationship between the misappropriation of public funds and the lack of action in searching for solutions in favour of disadvantaged communities, a relationship between corruption, human rights and impunity. It’s a vicious cycle that for as long as it continues, the country will be unable to search for ways to improve the situation for its inhabitants.

JZ: I suspect that in the international sphere, the everyday Guatemalan reality is relatively unknown, and this affects the approach that say European countries for example have to the situation.

IV: Our desire is to promote a greater understanding of the ICAIG and the situation in Guatemala. The need to gain backing from the international community by establishing a truly democratic state where the rule of law prevails is in all our interests. A universal desire to support the process of democratic state construction and consolidation must exist.

JZ: That was precisely where I was going. So, the ideal scenario would be that EU member and non-member states raised their voices more regarding the situation in Guatemala and the work of the ICAIG?

IV: Based on the perspective already discussed, this would be the desirable situation because democracy should be a good that we’re all interested in. Inasmuch as democratic governments exist, international harmony would be much more viable.

This is the request that we have formulated: to look at Guatemala, to look at Central America, to look at the entirety of the issue in Latin America to see how, from Europe and beyond, other countries can contribute to improving the situation. 

About the authors

José Zepeda is a Chilean-Dutch journalist, currently working at Radio Media naranja, in the Netherlands. He is the former head of the Latin American Department of the Dutch International broadcaster Radio Netherlands. He has been a guest lecturer at various universities in Latin America and international organisations, and has received two honorary doctorates from universities in Paraguay and Mexico for his dedication to the defence of human rights.

José Zepeda es un periodista chileno-holandés, actualmente trabaja para Radio Media Naranja, de Holanda. Fue director del Departamento latinoamericano de la Radio Netherlands. Ha sido conferenciante en varias universidades en Latinoamérica y en organizaciones internacionales, e investido doctor honoris causa por universidades de Paraguay y México por su dedicación a la defensa de los derechos humanos.

 

Iván Velásquez es Comisionado de la Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, CICIG.

Iván Velásquez is the Commissioner for the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala. 


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