Guatemala Must Reaffirm Commitment to Combating Corruption

NEW YORK—The Open Society Justice Initiative urges Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to declare his public support for the continued leadership of Iván Velásquez as head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

In a statement on Wednesday, August 23, Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Aldana expressed concern that President Morales sought to end Velásquez’s tenure, and promised to resign if he did so. Any effort to interfere with Velásquez’s work would be an affront to CICIG’s important anti-impunity work, and a setback for efforts to restore accountability for all crimes, no matter how powerful the perpetrators, in Guatemala.

CICIG, an independent, international body, was created by the United Nations at the Guatemalan government’s request in 2006 to investigate powerful criminal groups undermining democracy in the country. CICIG has a mandate to continue its work until 2019, with Velásquez at the helm. According to leaked reports from the president’s office, Morales may ask UN Secretary General António Guterres at a meeting scheduled for Friday, August 25, to remove Velásquez as CICIG’s commissioner.

“Velásquez has been tremendously effective at rooting out the corruption and violence that have compromised Guatemala’s democratic institutions and the rule of law,” said Justice Initiative Executive Director James Goldston. “If removed, his involuntary departure would send a signal—especially to those criminals closely connected to the government—that politics is reasserting authority over the justice system in Guatemala.” Members of President Morales’s family have been charged with fraud and are expected to stand trial in the coming weeks, and his political party, the National Convergence Front (FCN), is under investigation for alleged illegal financing. President Morales was elected in 2015 on an anticorruption platform.

Under Velásquez’s guidance, CICIG has played a crucial role in strengthening state investigative and prosecutorial institutions, supporting legal reforms, and bolstering democratic checks and balances. CICIG, in partnership with Guatemala’s Public Ministry, has helped prosecute powerful criminal networks, such as La Línea, a massive fraud network involving customs revenues that included former President Otto Pérez Molina and other top government officials and business leaders.

“CICIG under Velásquez is both a model and inspiration for other countries, particularly in Latin America, which struggle with entrenched corruption, organized crime, and compromised state institutions,” said Goldston. “Velásquez’s continued leadership has meaning beyond Guatemala and the region, and must be safeguarded.”