Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy On Another Setback For Justice In Guatemala

Mr. President, like many Members of Congress who have long supported efforts to help build an independent judiciary and reduce public corruption and impunity in Guatemala, I have observed a pattern of alarming actions by President Morales’ administration and his allies in Guatemala’s Congress to thwart these efforts. 

In the latest development, earlier this week the Guatemalan Ministry of Foreign Affairs withdrew the diplomatic immunity of 11 investigators and other personnel of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and ordered them to leave the country.  This followed an announcement by the Minister of Interior of the removal of another 15 high-ranking police officials from their posts. 

Over the years, the United States has invested many tens of millions of dollars to support the National Police, the Attorney General’s Office, and CICIG.  These actions by the Morales’ administration directly undermine those investments and indicate that it cannot be trusted to keep its word, and is not serious about upholding the rule of law.

Working jointly with the Attorney General’s Office, CICIG has investigated cases of public corruption and other serious crimes.  It has helped to strengthen the investigative capabilities of the Attorney General’s Office and the police, and promoted key criminal justice reforms.  For this reason CICIG, its commissioner, and the former Attorney General have been the target of acts of intimidation and a smear campaign orchestrated by the Morales’ administration and its allies in the military and the media.  These actions by the government threaten CICIG’s independence and its ability to function effectively.  According to information I have received, the professionals whose diplomatic immunity and visas were revoked include investigators and lawyers involved in some of the most sensitive cases related to alleged corruption and illicit campaign financing by top government officials.

Other actions by Guatemalan authorities are equally disturbing.  Since assuming office in January 2018, Minister of Interior Enrique Degenhart has, on multiple occasions, removed or relocated senior National Police officers and detectives.  Most of these officers had many years of experience in criminal investigations, counter-narcotics, and other specialized areas.  Most were trained by the United States.  Even worse, the Minister has reportedly appointed police officials with alleged links to the military and promoted officers without transparent, merit-based processes, undermining efforts to build a professional, transparent, and accountable police force.  This threatens our ability to continue working with the police – which has in the past been infiltrated by organized crime – to combat narcotics trafficking, money laundering, and other transnational criminal activity.  

In 2009, working with key Guatemalan law enforcement agencies, CICIG helped establish a wiretapping unit within the Attorney General’s Office.  Prior to that, wiretaps were illegal.  The unit, which has been supported by the United States, has been instrumental in helping the Attorney General investigate and dismantle complex criminal networks.   Reportedly, among the officers recently removed by Minister Degenhart was the director of the wiretapping unit.

Mr. President, if we have learned anything over many years of trying to assist the countries of Central America build the institutions of government necessary to effectively combat corruption and impunity, it is that without partners who care at least as much about these issues as we do it is a fruitless exercise and a waste of U.S. taxpayers’ money. 

What is happening today in Guatemala is a repeat of what we have observed many times before.  New government officials take office, they profess their commitment to democratic ideals, the rule of law, and judicial independence, and then, when their own misdeeds become the focus of criminal investigations, they show their true colors. 

They ignore rulings by the country’s highest courts.  They seek to replace magistrates who cannot be intimidated, with cronies who will shield them from the law.  They expel international prosecutors on grounds of “sovereignty”.  They threaten those whose job it is to apply the law. They try to intimidate their political opponents.  It is the same sad story. 

I recently met Constitutional Court Magistrate Gloria Patria Porras Escobar, an experienced and internationally respected jurist and former prosecutor known for her independence and courage.  She, like others who have honored their professions, is an example of what Guatemala needs.  Yet she is being vilified by those who seek to subvert the institutions of justice. 

The people of Guatemala deserve better.  They have demanded an end to corruption, an end to impunity, and an end to public officials who care more about enriching and protecting themselves than they do about addressing the needs of their people.  The Guatemalan people overwhelming support the Attorney General’s Office and CICIG, which have, for the first time in the country’s history, shown that public officials who abuse their authority are not above the law. 

President Morales’ administration has less than a year left in office.  Let us hope that he quickly reverses course, because the path he is on will jeopardize further U.S. support for his government’s participation in the Alliance for Prosperity.  Otherwise, we will have no choice but to wait for a government in Guatemala that has the integrity to be a credible partner of the United States. 

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