Guatemala sets pace in corruption fight

September 18, 2015

Guatemalans have been making quite a noise in recent months.

Whether it was the shout repeatedly asking the president to: “Resign, now,” or the honking of the vuvuzelas in the crowds, their cries seem to have been heard.

Earlier this month, President Otto Perez Molina stood down, after Congress voted to strip him of his immunity.

He is now behind bars, awaiting trial over an alleged corruption scandal that has outraged Guatemalans.

Mr Perez Molina has been accused of involvement in a case known as “La Linea”(The Line), named after a hotline businesses allegedly called to access corrupt officials.

Prosecutors say millions of dollars were paid in bribes.

The allegations emerged in April in an investigation by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN body created in 2006 to strengthen the country’s rule of law.

Former Vice-President Eduardo Stein, who helped establish the commission, says Guatemala wanted to learn how to carry through criminal investigations that had previously been weak and often knocked down at the beginning of the trial.

“Since the UN has a way of handling post-war societies, through the Security Council, we thought, ‘Why can’t we ask for a different kind of help from the international community that could strengthen our judiciary?'” he says.

The commission’s role has evolved to include alleged corruption cases.


New hero

There was no precedent for the CICIG, according to Adriana Beltran from the Washington Office on Latin America. It was not easy to set up either.

But it has proven successful.

Unable to look up to their leadership, Guatemalans’ modern-day hero is Ivan Velasquez, who is in charge of the CICIG.

He is a superstar in Guatemala at the moment, and now many in the region want a CICIG of their own.

“It’s something each country has to evaluate,” Mr Velasquez tells BBC Mundo.

He acknowledges there is a desire for a CICIG in places such as Honduras, which has seen its own protests over alleged corruption in recent months. There are also calls from Mexico.

“But it has to be with cooperation from the government, because this isn’t just a commission brought in by anyone,” Mr Velasquez adds.

“There has to be a will from the country to establish a commission like this.”

International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala objectives:

  • Investigate the existence of illicit security forces and clandestine security organisations that commit crimes that affect the fundamental human rights of the citizens of Guatemala, and identify their structures, activities and financing
  • Help the state disband these groups, and promote investigation and prosecution of crimes committed by their members
  • Recommend policy reform to prevent re-emergence

Mr Wood says there has been progress, with a recently-passed anti-corruption law, and acknowledges Mexico has an advanced legal framework.

“But when it comes down to implementation and execution, it doesn’t do a particularly good job historically,” he says.

Many of the recent political controversies in Mexico have been issues of conflict of interest, such as the so-called “White House scandal”, which raised questions about how the president and First Lady Angelica Rivera acquired their $7m (£4m) private home.

And Mr Wood thinks the country has not yet reached its tipping point.

“Mexican society has a unique alchemy,” he says.

“The same conditions that would force a change in Guatemala are not going to force the same change in Mexico.”