Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy On Justice and the Rule of Law in Central America

Mr. President, last week I spoke about the importance of the rule of law in Guatemala, and praised the work of Attorney General Thelma Aldana and the Commissioner of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, Ivan Velasquez.  These two individuals have helped to create hope among the Guatemalan people in the possibility of justice in a country where the justice system has too often been used to perpetuate corruption, impunity and inequality. 

The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, has been strongly supported by the United States.  I commended President Morales when, shortly after taking office last January, he extended CICIG’s mandate.  He has affirmed that he supports CICIG’s mandate through September 2019, for which, again, I commend him. 

Last week I expressed a concern that had been conveyed to me by several individuals that President Morales might recommend against renewal of Mr. Velasquez as Commissioner beyond September 2017, when Mr. Velasquez’s current term expires.  In response, according to press reports, President Morales denied this, and said he supports Mr. Velasquez for as long as Mr. Velasquez does the job he is supposed to do. 

Ivan Velasquez is a respected former judge from Colombia who has carried out his responsibilities as the Commissioner of CICIG with professionalism.  He and Attorney General Aldana have collaborated on sensitive, complex cases, which until recently would never have been prosecuted in Guatemala given its history of impunity.  It is important that their collaboration continue for as long as possible.

So I welcome President Morales’ public statement of support for CICIG and for Mr. Velasquez, particularly at a time when the U.S. Congress is again being asked to provide hundreds of millions of dollars to support the Alliance for Prosperity Plan.  That Plan, which is in its early stages, has the potential to make progress in combatting the poverty, lack of opportunity, inequality, violence, and impunity that are among the key contributors to migration from Central America to the United States.  These are deeply rooted problems that the Central American countries, and the United States, have a strong interest in working together to address. 

For the Alliance for Prosperity Plan to succeed, each of the Central American governments needs to take steps that their predecessors were unwilling or unable to take.  Those steps include:

  • Ensuring that senior government officials and their advisors are people of integrity.
  • Redefining the antagonistic relationship between government and civil society, to one of mutual respect for each other’s legitimate role.    
  • Fully supporting efforts to combat corruption by CICIG and by the Mission to Support the Fight Against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras.  El Salvador should also recognize the important role these entities are playing, and support the establishment of a similar commission to combat corruption and impunity in that country.
  • Increasing the budget of the Office of the Attorney General, so they have the necessary personnel, training, equipment, and protection to carry out their responsibilities throughout the country, especially in areas where they have never had the resources to operate. 
  • Supporting the independence of the judiciary, including the selection of judges based on their qualifications, and the principal of equal access to justice.
  • Building transparent and accountable institutions of democracy that can withstand attempts to subvert the rights of the people, including demilitarizing law enforcement and building professional, civilian police forces.

It is the responsibility of the Central American governments to take these steps, and by doing so create the conditions for building more prosperous, equitable, and just societies.  If they do that, and they meet the other conditions in U.S. law, the United States should support them.

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