On verge of crisis, Guatemala lifts presidential immunity



Credit: Wikipedia

Guatemala’s top court opened the way on Monday for an investigation of President Jimmy Morales (left) for alleged illegal campaign finances, but Congress will have the final say on removing his presidential immunity and could yet block the probe, Reuters reports:

The attorney general of the Central American nation and a U.N.-backed anti-graft body said last month that they were seeking to investigate Morales over the campaign financing. Two days later Morales declared the head of the U.N. body “persona non grata.”

Prosecutors will need to win a two-thirds majority in Congress for Morales to be formally investigated and charged. Prosecutors may have a tough time winning enough support in Congress to strip Morales of his immunity since all the major parties are being investigated.

The crisis is a further sign that Central America’s fragile democracies are under threat, analysts suggest.

Guatemalans are making a stand for the rule of law, according to Claudia Escobar (right), a former magistrate of the Court of Appeals of Guatemala and a Reagan-Fascell democracy fellow and Eshe Hill, a research associate at the National Endowment for Democracy.

On Aug. 27, Guatemalans and members of the international community watched in disbelief as President Jimmy Morales declared Iván Velásquez, head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) “persona non grata” and attempted to expel him from the country. CICIG, which was created with the backing of the United Nations, has been one of the most successful global initiatives in the fight against corruption to date. Now Guatemala’s citizens are fighting to defend it, they write for The Washington Post:

Every day, Guatemalans wage a new battle against corruption. This is a critical moment to support Guatemalans committed to justice and the rule of law. Velásquez must not be forced to leave his position as the head of CICIG. That would cripple the country’s fight against corruption, burying the only real hope of transforming a country marked by impunity, violence and inequity.

CICIG – proposed by Guatemalan civil society, in operation since 2007, and acting through the attorney general’s office – has been steadfast in its fight against corruption in Guatemala, says the International Crisis Group:

Central to CICIG’s recent success has been Velásquez, a courageous former judge with considerable experience dealing with political corruption in his native Colombia. Velásquez has moved CICIG away from a more general mission of fighting impunity toward a tightly-focused mandate of combating illegal money-producing schemes. It has spearheaded probes into political funding and corruption, resulting in almost two hundred defendants facing investigation and trial this year alone.

Its ability to mobilize civil society has made CICIG one of Guatemala’s most respected institutions, notes Juan Felipe Celia, a program assistant in the Atlantic Council’s Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center. An Atlantic Council poll commissioned by CID-Gallup in August 2016 showed that 81 percent of Guatemalans approved of CICIG’s work on combatting impunity and corruption. On the other hand, only 30 percent of Guatemalans had a favorable view of Morales.

Even Guatemala’s church and business leaders sided with this new coalition to demand change, says COHA analyst Paxton Duff. The unified protests and the bolstering of civil society allowed protesters to express longstanding grievances that exceed government fraud.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email