February 6, 2019

On January 7, Guatemala's institutional crisis reached a climax. The government unilaterally terminated the agreement with the United Nations for the permanence of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), granting a period of 24 hours for its officials to leave the country. The decision was announced by the Minister of Foreign Relations, Sanda Jovel, to the Secretary General of the UN, Antonio Guterres.

The President of Guatemala, Jimmy Morales, justified this decision by accusing the CICIG of violating internal laws and international agreements, especially during the period of the last commissioner, Colombian Iván Velásquez Gómez, who, according to Morales, put at risk the public order, the governability, and the sovereignty of the Guatemalan state. In contrast to the President's position, CICIG has the support of the Constitutional Court (CC), the Public Prosecutor's Office (MP), and the Human Rights Ombudsman's Office (PDH).

The crisis began to take shape in August 2017, when the Guatemalan President declared CICIG Commissioner Iváan Velásquez "persona non grata," ordering him to leave the country immediately. The CC, for its part, declared a protective action had been filed to avoid the expulsion and suspend the decision until the merits of the case were decided. Finally, the CC definitively granted protected to avoid the expulsion of Velásquez and the CICIG continued to operate, despite growing difficulties for their work.

On September 4, 2018, taking advantage of the Commissioner's trip to Washington, the Guatemalan government announced its decision to prohibit him from reentering the country. A few days later, the CC resolved unanimously to order the President to allow the Commissioner to return. Despite this, Minister Degenhart announced that Velásquez would not be allowed to enter the country, and the government filed several legal actions with the CC to revoke its decision, which were declared null and void. This January, the crisis worsened when, on January 5, 2019, Yilen Osorio, a CICIG researcher, was detained for 26 hours at the La Aurora airport, despite an appeal issued by the CC on December 21 in favor of 11 collaborators of the Commission whose courtesy visas had been revoked. The CC was obliged to remember the fulfillment of said protection so that the investigator, finally, was allowed to enter the country.

According to Morales, one of the reasons why he decided to unilaterally cancel the agreement with the UN was the fact that he didn't see his petition to designate a new commissioner being addressed. Morales denounced the silence, passivity, and refusal to find solutions, which he said generated national uncertainty about the CICIG. Guterres, however, states that the UN has been exchanging constructively with the Guatemalan government, at various levels, for the last sixteen months, in accordance with Article 12 of the agreement establishing the CICIG.

There are many voices of alarm both inside and outside of Guatemala. According to Martín Rodríguez--political analyst, journalist, and director of Nómada--the expulsion of CICIG has led to a rupture in the constitutional order because the court's word is not respected; the President supposes he can reject or erase it and there is no legality other than the force of weapons. It is a coup d'état in slow motion because it's difficult to immediately perceive the effects of the constitutional breakdown.

On January 14, while the President presented his government's annual management report, various marches were held in the interior of the country and in the capital, showing outrage at the government's actions against CICIG and demanding the President's resignation. Along the same lines, Germany, Canada, the Spanish state, the USA, France, Italy, Sweden, Switzerland, the UK, the EU, Norway, and the Netherlands issued a statement on January 8 expressing their concern over the events of recent dates and highlighting the need for the government of Guatemala to respect the constitutional order, democratic instutions, the rule of law, and the separation of powers. The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) also issued a statement stating that the government's attitude calls into question its willingness to meet international commitments in the fight against impunity and corruption. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expounded on this concern and urged the government to guarantee democratic freedoms.

On January 16, CICIG was withdrawn as a complainant in the case of the Registry of Property Plunder, in which José Manuel Morales and Sammy Morales, son and brother of President Jimmy Morales, are accused. The decision was made by the Thirteenth Criminal Court, which said that the CICIG did not appear at the hearing. Despite CICIG's evident relegation of its field of action, on January 24, the agency reiterated tis commitment to work until the agreement signed by the government and the UN expires in September, supporting the MP from a distance.

It's important to point out that this prounfded crisis in Guatemala has strongly increased the public perception of corruption. The country has become one of the worst rated by Transparency International (TI) in its 2018 index; it is ranked 144st out of 180 countries. The organization Citizen Action (AC), (Guatemala's chapter of TI), said that during the Presidency of Jimmy Morales, the country has dropped eight positions in its ranking. AC also warned that the country could continue to decline in the measurement because this year the executive has concentrated its efforts on seeking the expulsion of the CICIG and has acted against the rule of law.

From PBI Guatemala