The Experiment in International Justice That Brought Down a President

March 23, 2016

In Guatemala they call the scandal La Línea—a reference to the telephone wiretap that sparked the country’s biggest-ever corruption case and brought down a government. 

La Línea exposed a massive network of fraud involving customs revenues that allegedly included top government officials and business leaders. Coming on the heels of a string of earlier revelations, the scandal fueled unprecedented public protests last year. In September, it led to the resignation and arrest of President Otto Pérez Molina himself.

But how did the La Línea investigation come to fruition in a country where efforts to bring the powerful to justice have usually been thwarted by well-financed networks of patronage and intimidation?

The case, and the surfacing of last year’s other corruption scandals, were the dramatic result of a unique experiment in international justice known locally by its Spanish acronym, CICIG—the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala.

CICIG was set up in 2007 after the government sought international help in confronting the threat of organized crime groups that had infiltrated the police, the courts, and the prisons. Tasked with supporting Guatemala’s criminal justice system, CICIG now has around 190 international and local staff working with the Ministerio Publico—Guatemala’s attorney general’s office—which it helped to set up the La Línea wiretaps. Previously, CICIG supported judicial reforms that established special courts for risky cases, one of which is now handling the high-profile La Línea trial of former Vice President Roxanne Baldetti.

Learn more about the remarkable story of CICIG in the latest episode of our Talking Justice podcast. Listen to Patrick Gavigan—author of a new Open Society report, Against the Odds: CICIG in Guatemala—in conversation with James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative, as they discuss CICIG’s uncertain road to success, and the outlook for Guatemala after the La Línea revelations. 

3 Comments

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We in Sri Lanka faced the same corruptions under the last regime. the new Government came to power promising rule of law and action against corruption but moves very slowly.New ministers also are being accused of corruption.

In the face of failed governance, political silence and complicity in the mismanagement of public resources such collective action is highly welcome. Such initiatives need to be taken up by other countries.

It is a good practice to sought the help of the international community when and where the situation of national patrimony is severely damaged by the public administrators themselves.

Governance, after all is on the culture of the sovereign citizen of a republic or state. Relatively, freedom is not given to a country, where and when it cannot exercise the freedom per se.

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