Allegations Taint Anti-Corruption Commission’s Efforts in Guatemala

 (IPS) – With accusations now being levelled against the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), the effort to clean up corruption in this Central American nation has become a legal knot that will be difficult to untangle.

“This series of attacks was to be expected because its investigations touched the big monster that has been operating in the government for years. Now it’s been proved that the officials under CICIG investigation had even hired assassins to eliminate whomever they wanted,” Norma Cruz, of the non-governmental, anti-violence Fundación Sobrevivientes (Survivors Foundation), told IPS.

The United Nations-mandated CICIG conducted investigations which led to the Aug. 13 arrest of Alejandro Giammettei, former director of the Guatemalan prison system, now a prisoner himself, and the Oct. 13 arrest of former Interior minister Carlos Vielman in Madrid.

Both were officials of the right-wing administration of former president Oscar Berger (2004-2008), and both are accused of extrajudicial execution of seven inmates after security forces stormed the Pavón Prison Farm on Sep. 25, 2006, to regain control after an inmate riot.

But Vielman, who has ties to the most conservative wing of the Guatemalan business sector, was released in late November because the government never sent an extradition request to Spain — which led to new doubts and criticisms.

In fact, Costa Rican Francisco Dall’Anese, current head of CICIG, accused the government of obstructing the former minister’s return to Guatemala.

“Our work is always subject to external variables, and they reflect the political will of Guatemalan institutions, which move in a way that makes justice impossible. CICIG’s credibility is not at stake; it is the reputation of Guatemalan institutions that has come crashing down,” said Dall’Anese.

CICIG formally began its activities in January 2008 with the UN mandate to investigate the existence of illegal, clandestine armed security groups and their possible links to the state apparatus, and to collaborate in dismantling them.

The intrigue hit a low point when the former CICIG prosecutor Giselle Rivera, of Costa Rica, resigned, saying that the former CICIG director Carlos Castresana, a Spanish judge, had concealed information that also implicated Vielman in the Feb. 19, 2007 deaths of three Salvadoran representatives to the Central American Parliament.

Rivera said she resigned from CICIG, where she had served 2008-2009, because that line of investigation and others that pointed to Vielman had been ignored.

“The fact that CICIG would silence these very serious facts led the Commission to carry out the same sort of cover-up as the Public Ministry has done,” said Rivera in one of her many statements about the case.

The CICIG response in November was to withdraw the immunity that the UN had granted Rivera as an investigative prosecutor, and today she faces an international arrest warrant for alleged crimes of “unfaithful representation, double representation and concealment.”

Current director Dall’Anese stated that it is all part of a campaign to undermine everything CICIG has accomplished.

Marco Antonio Canteo, of the Guatemalan non-governmental Institute of Comparative Studies in Penal Sciences, told IPS that the declarations of the former CICIG prosecutor “should be investigated, because it is healthy as well as necessary.”

He stressed that “the commission should have everyone’s support because, for the first time in the country’s history, investigations have targeted people for whom it would have been unthinkable in the past,” referring to the former government officials. It is precisely why there are reactions against the CICIG now, he said.

In August 2009, the Guatemalan Congress extended the CICIG term to Sep. 4, 2011, while social-democratic President Álvaro Colom, announced last week that UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will visit the country in March or April and is expected to extend the commission’s mandate for two more years.

Carmen Aída Ibarra, of the non-governmental Pro-Justice Movement, told IPS that the local human rights organisations “have always believed in CICIG” as a mechanism for helping the country in its fight against impunity. According to her group’s figures, almost 98 percent of criminal cases in the nation’s justice system go unpunished.

However, “it is necessary that the commission clear up the charges against it in the judicial context, because if they are left unresolved it will affect its work,” she added.

Attorney General for Human Rights Sergio Morales has called for an investigation of former CICIG director and the charges against him.

Castresana, who had led the Commission since its creation in September 2007, stepped down in June, citing lack of government support in the anti-impunity fight and claiming there was a smear campaign to undermine his authority.

Beyond the criticisms and legal tangles, the work of CICIG in Guatemala has generated high expectations among the population since its work began here.

Among other cases, in January this year, the Commission arrested former president Alfonso Portillo (2000-2004), accused of a million-dollar fraud, and the businessmen brothers José and Francisco Valdez Paiz, for the murder of attorney Rodrigo Rosenberg.

Three days before he was killed, May 10, 2009, Rosenberg made a video recording in which he implicated President Colom and other government officials in his own death, which triggered a national crisis. In the end to this bizarre case, CICIG concluded that Rosenberg had organised his own murder.

CICIG has also promoted essential legislation for fighting crime, including a law on weapons and ammunition and a reform of the law on organised crime, both in 2009, as well as the law on asset recovery for seizure of goods obtained with illicit resources, passed by Congress last week.

Yet there are those who believe that Guatemala does not need CICIG. Criminal lawyer José Toledo told IPS, “Foreign interventions by imposed institutions have never benefitted any country.”

In his opinion, “Guatemala should have the capacity itself to strengthen its justice institutions,” although he hesitatingly admitted that the Commission “is a necessary evil.”

In the fight against impunity, CICIG will have to work hand- in-hand with the new Attorney General and head of the Public Ministry, Claudia Paz y Paz, 54. She is the first woman to hold this post in Guatemala.

President Colom announced her designation last week, which many applauded due to her professional abilities. But there was also criticism, as some claimed that the president’s intervention in this process continues to “compromise the independence” of the CICIG investigations.