Sep 7, 2018

U.S. soft on Guatemala's anti-CICIG moves (Sept. 7, 2018)

The U.S. took a soft stance towards the Guatemalan government's efforts to disarm an independent U.N. anti-graft commission that has accused the president of corruption. The U.S. supports Guatemalan efforts to "reform" the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), said U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a call with Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales yesterday. Pompeo referred to respect for Guatemalan sovereignty and "continued support of the United States for a reformed CICIG." The press release, and Prensa Libre's coverage.

But critics said the response fell far short of the support needed for anti-corruption efforts. The undermining of the CICIG could also have potentially grave effects for the U.S. as well as Guatemala they said. U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy witheringly criticized the weak U.S. response to Morales' moves, and will seek to block aid to Guatemala "until the fate of CICIG and Commissioner Velasquez is satisfactorily resolved." The letterYesterday U.S. Representative Norma J. Torres (D-CA) urged a strong U.S. policy response to Morales' anti-CICIG stance. "The stakes are high. If CICIG’s mandate expires, and Guatemala continues along its current trajectory, the country will, very likely, once again become a magnet for organized crime and money laundering," she wrote in a letter to Pompeo, warning of potential implications not just in the region, but for the U.S. The U.S. has invested $44.5m in Cicig since it was established a decade ago, and considered stability in Guatemala key to stemming illegal immigration, WOLA's Geoff Thale told the Financial Times

In Global Americans Benjamin Gedan argues that the U.S. stance is counterproductive to its own central interests, though analysts point to other foreign policy goals -- such as the move of the U.S. Israeli embassy to Jerusalem and El Salvador's diplomatic rupture with Taiwan -- as a possible explanation.

The mixed messages coming from the U.S. open the door for Morales to continue his battle against the CICIG, argues InSight Crime.

The talk occurred shortly after a press conference in which Morales and members of his cabinet defended their decision to bar CICIG head Iván Velásquez from reentering the country, a move that has been strongly criticized by the U.N. and members of the international community, reports the Associated Press. (See yesterday's post.) Morales said Velásquez generated polarization and affected Guatemala's governability. (El Periódico

Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel accused the CICIG of becoming a parallel structure like the illicit networks it aimed at disarming. Guatemalan experts take apart Jovel's characterization of the CICIG as a parallel structure in La Hora.

Last week Morales announced the non-renewal of the CICIG's mandate. He spoke flanked by members of the military. The announcement was accompanied by military jeeps which drove by the CICIG headquarters and the U.S. embassy, a move critics considered threatening. (See Monday's post.) Minister of Government Enrique Degenhart spoke yesterday, arguing that those movements were part of normal patrols, and not an act of intimidation. (El Periódico)

But observers say the military display -- along with the weak U.S. response -- had a chilling effect, and note the relatively quiet public response to the government's anti-CICIG moves. The CICIG is well regarded in Guatemala, and is one of the country's most trusted institutions. Advocates are also concerned about corruption fatigue, just a few years after former President Otto Pérez Molina was ousted in the midst of a massive corruption scandal uncovered by the CICIG. (Christian Science Monitor)

Morales' actions put him on collision course with the judiciary, potentially heralding a constitutional crisis. (See Wednesday's post.) Guatemalan activists are concerned it's a path towards Ortega-style authoritarianism, reports Brendan O'Boyle in Americas Quarterly. They point to a bill in Guatemala's Congress that would allow lawmakers to filter charges against government officials, sidestepping the Supreme Court -- part of a broader onslaught against the justice system that has accompanied the anti-CICIG actions. Acción Ciudadana filed a appeal in the Constitutional Court against the bill yesterday, reports El Periódico. (See yesterday's post.)

The actions take place as Degenhart carries out a systematic effort to dismantle Guatemala's national civil police force as an independent professional force writes Mark L. Schneider at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). He cites a new study out this week by FOSS.

The CICIG has also been a beacon for anti-corruption efforts in the region, and what happens now could have implications for other countries in the region, notes the Los Angeles Times in a piece that reviews the CICIG's history and the current onslaught against it.

More on Guatemala's CICIG crisis
  • No word yet on the visa status for dozens of other foreign CICIG employees after their working papers expired on Aug. 31. (El Periódico)
  • Many analysts have pointed to Morales' backing of the U.S. decision to move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem as a source of U.S. acquiescence for his moves against the CICIG. (See yesterday's post and Wednesday's.) Puerto Barrios in Guatemala is doubling down on Israel support, and will name all the streets in the city after Israeli communities. (Jerusalem Post)

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