Guatemala ups persecution of those who pursued the corrupt

Jan 17, 2023, 10:24 PM | Updated: Jan 18, 2023, 1:15 pm
FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2022 file photo, Colombian Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez pauses while spe...

FILE - In this Nov. 29, 2022 file photo, Colombian Defense Minister Ivan Velasquez pauses while speaking during a meeting with Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin at the Pentagon in Washington, Nov. 29, 2022. Guatemala announced on Monday, Jan. 16, 2023 that it will take legal action against Velásquez who led an anti-corruption commission in Guatemala. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)

GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — The Guatemalan government’s effort to undo more than a decade of United Nations-backed anti-corruption work moved even beyond its borders this week, in what experts say is an election year attempt to assure conservative voters its like won’t be seen again.

Guatemalan prosecutors announced their intention to pursue legal action against Colombian Iván Velásquez, who led the U.N.’s anti-corruption mission in Guatemala. Velásquez, who is now Colombia’s defense minister, and prosecutors the U.N. helped train dealt blow after blow to Guatemalan corruption over 12 years until the government refused to renew their mandate in 2019.

Since then, the administration of President Alejandro Giammattei has been accused by civil society organizations and foreign governments of systemically pursuing those who worked with the U.N. mission, best known by its Spanish initial CICIG.

Some 30 judges, magistrates and prosecutors involved in the investigation or processing of those corruption cases have been forced to flee the country after facing legal action from the current administration.

Giammattei is not eligible for re-election in June, but his Vamos party will put forward a national lawmaker as its candidate. The election promises to be a free-for-all with some 30 parties participating. No Guatemalan party has ever been re-elected to the presidency for consecutive terms.

“This fits with an electoral purpose. It is an indirect electoral offering for those sectors that are benefitting or are going to benefit from the dismantling of everything that has to do with the CICIG,” said Tiziano Breda, a Latin America expert with the Italy-based Istituto Affari Internazionali. “And it assures that in the case of the continuation of this government the dismantling will continue.”

Perhaps the CICIG’s greatest achievement was the investigation and prosecution of President Otto Pérez Molina, who was forced to resign along with his Cabinet in 2015.

In addition to reversing the achievements made against corruption, Breda said, the current government’s campaign against those associated with anti-corruption efforts “tries to change the narrative about what CICIG came to do in the country and what it accomplished.”

Guatemala’s current anti-corruption prosecutor, Rafael Curruchiche Cacul, alleges Velásquez improperly entered into a cooperation agreement with Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht while investigating that firm’s extensive bribery operations across the region. That cooperation agreement was approved by a Guatemalan judge.

Curruchiche Cacul was sanctioned by the United States last year for allegedly obstructing corruption investigations and pursuing instead investigations against former anti-corruption prosecutors and judges.

Colombian President Gustavo Petro defended Velásquez, saying the corrupt are now pursuing him even years after he left Guatemala.

Farhan Haq, spokesman for U.N. Secretary General António Guterres, said Wednesday they were aware of the intention of Guatemalan prosecutors to take action against Velásquez and reiterated the immunity he and others retain.

“The Secretary-General expresses his concern at the numerous reports suggesting that criminal prosecution is being exercised against those who sought to shed light on cases of corruption and worked to strengthen the justice system in Guatemala,” Haq said.

Gabriela Carreta, a political scientist at Rafael Landivar University, said the actions of Curruchiche Cacul aim to send “a clear message that never again will there be investigations against corruption, nor a seach for justice, much less with foreign intervention.”

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Guatemala ups persecution of those who pursued the corrupt