GUATEMALA: New Challenges for Anti-Corruption Commission

  • by Danilo Valladares (guatemala city)
  • Friday, August 27, 2010
  • Inter Press Service

This month, former Costa Rican attorney general Francisco Dall'Anese replaced Spanish jurist Carlos Castresana, who quit on Jun. 7, complaining that the Guatemalan government was not doing enough to live up to the obligations outlined in the agreement that established CIGIG.

One of the key tasks of the ground-breaking initiative, which began to operate in January 2008, is to assist the Guatemalan public prosecutor's office, the Supreme Court and the police in identifying the existence of illegal, clandestine armed security groups and their possible links to the state apparatus, in order to dismantle them.

Dall'Anese, who is known for leading the major anti-corruption investigations against former Costa Rican presidents Rafael Ángel Calderón (1990-1994) and Miguel Ángel Rodríguez (1998-2002), has pointed out that the United Nations is providing support for Guatemala's fight against corruption through CICIG, at the government's request.

'But when it comes down to it, it is the Guatemalans themselves who will decide what is to be done,' said the second director of CICIG, who reached Guatemala on Aug. 5.

The challenges faced by the anti-corruption commission include safeguarding the independence of the judicial system, especially during the campaign for the September 2011 general elections, and 'maintaining CICIG's reputation of credibility among the public,' political analyst Carmen Ortiz told IPS.

'The director of CICIG will have to take into consideration the political scenario at all times, to avoid any misunderstandings,' she said. 'And obviously he will have to be very savvy in his communication strategy, in terms of the possible political interpretations of the commission's activities.'

A recent example of what Dall'Anese can expect were the street protests and a heated debate among the various political factions and in the media after the Aug. 13 arrest of opposition leader Alejandro Giammattei.

Giammattei was head of the prison service in 2006, when seven prisoners were killed after the security forces stormed the Pavón prison farm outside of the capital to regain control from gangs of prisoners. The former prison service director is charged with the extrajudicial execution of the prisoners.

A few hundred supporters of Giammattei have taken to the streets to demand a fair trial for the former presidential candidate, who they say is 'honest' and 'innocent.'

The politician claims he is a victim of 'political persecution that comes from the presidential palace,' aimed at keeping him from taking part in next year's elections.

The former prison service director came in third in the 2007 presidential elections, which were won by current President Álvaro Colom of the centre-left National Union of Hope party.

CICIG says Giammattei and other former senior officials formed part of a criminal structure within the ministry of the interior and national police, that engaged in criminal activities like murder, drug trafficking, kidnapping, extortion and money laundering.

Eight suspects are in custody so far in connection with the case, including former police officials, and arrest warrants have been issued for 10 others, including a former minister of the interior and a former police chief.

According to CICIG, the military-police operation to take back control of the Pavón prison farm in 2006 was used to eliminate rival criminal leaders held at the penitentiary.

The head of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit (UDEFEGUA), Claudia Samayoa, told IPS that 'the clandestine structures and illegal bodies are by nature rooted in power, and if CICIG does its work, it will eventually touch on those structures embedded in the political parties and security forces.'

Samayoa said CICIG is acting in an advisory capacity to the public prosecutor's office, which is coordinating the criminal investigations, and that it is independent of the electoral question. 'We must defend it,' she stressed.

The prominent activist said CICIG's mandate should be extended beyond September 2011, the date set for it to end its operations, arguing that it is clearly not enough time for it to fulfill its mission.

'Sentences have been handed down in nine cases of extrajudicial executions and 120 cases of trafficking of persons in the last year,' Samayoa said. 'That is the result of the good work of Guatemalans employed by the justice system who found a way to carry out their work thanks to what CICIG is doing.'

According to CICIG, of the 6,451 homicides, nearly 18 a day, committed in this impoverished Central American country in 2009, only 230 led to a conviction.

Jorge Santos, head of the International Centre for Human Rights Research (CIIDH), told IPS that the challenges that Dall'Anese will have to face include pushing for approval of legislative reform proposals aimed at assisting the state in the eradication of the illegal security structures.

Another task will be sharing his experience with the public prosecutor's office, the national civil police and the judiciary, Santos said.

Congress has failed to act on several reform proposals submitted by CICIG, which are considered essential to fighting impunity in this notoriously corrupt nation.

The bills awaiting passage include a law against illicit enrichment and legislative reforms making it possible to try corrupt officials or former officials.

Gudy Rivera, a rightwing Patriot Party legislator, stressed that CICIG's mandate is strictly limited to investigating the clandestine security structures. But he told IPS that 'as a party, we have always respected, and will support, the Commission.'

Political analyst Álvaro Pop said the U.N.-sponsored commission's work in the fight against impunity is extremely important in the process of reforming the state, pushed forward by social organisations and civil society.

© Inter Press Service (2010) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service

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