Guatemala Slowly Winning War Against Corruption and Impunity — CICIG
By Dialogo September 09, 2013
Once in 2005 and again in 2006, the head of criminal investigation of Guatemala’s National Civil Police took justice into his own hands. In the overcrowded prisons of Pavón and El Infiernito, Víctor Hugo Soto Diéguez and three subordinates executed 10 prisoners.
But in August, something unusual happened to the perpetrators: all four of them went to jail.
Soto Diéguez and three others received sentences ranging from 17 to 33 years for the killings — marking a major success for the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG in Spanish) and its outgoing leader, Francisco Dall’Anese of Costa Rica.
On Aug. 22, Dall’Anese told Guatemalan leaders that impunity had fallen from 93 to 70 percent since CICIG’s formation in 2007 at the invitation of then-President Oscar Berger. The UN-backed human rights body — made up of international prosecutors and judicial officials — said that its goal was “to help Guatemala disband illegal groups and clandestine security structures.”
Dell’Anese, who was replaced Sept. 2 as head of CICIG by former Colombian Supreme Court magistrate Iván Velásquez Gómez, then scorned his detractors.
Dall’Anese commends 23% drop in impunity
“Allow me to thank all those individuals who have criticized the commission and sought to damage the public image of the institution and the commissioner, because in any prosecution office of the world, it would be taken as a sign of success,” he said.
Dall’Anese acknowledged that the numbers are not optimal, but said a 23 percent reduction in impunity signaled a major step forward. In a region burdened by some of the world’s highest homicide rates, Guatemala has begun to curtail the number of killings while convicting more crime suspects.
Since 2007, CICIG has removed about 2,500 corrupt officers from the national police force. The organization — which operates under the auspices of the United Nations — has forced out higher-ups including dozens of police chiefs and two attorneys general.
During his tenure, Dall’Anese went after judges too. In November 2012, CICIG released “Judges of Impunity,” a report that accuses 18 judges in Guatemala of protecting criminals and corrupt government officials. In the case of the extra-judicial killings, prosecutors believe some high-ranking officials were in on the plot. They are pursuing trials against an ex-head of the Interior Ministry, a former national police chief and several others.
Homicide rate falls over last four consecutive years
The commission has made world headlines by solving high-profile cases, the most prominent of which occurred under previous CICIG director Carlos Castresana of Spain. Dall’Anese and his investigators probed the mysterious April 2009 murder of lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg — an affair that nearly ended the presidency of Alvaro Colom.
Dall’Anese said the efforts of CICIG as well as Guatemala’s attorney general, Claudia Paz y Paz, have led to impressive results. The homicide rate still ranks as one of the world’s highest — 35 per 100,000 inhabitants, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime. However, that figure has been falling for the last four years.
President Otto Perez Molina praised CICIG, telling reporters that criticism leveled at the commission was a sign that things are being done correctly. “We are not condemned to live with impunity,” he said. “And therefore we are making these efforts.”
CICIG will remain in Guatemala another two years. Molina has extended the organization’s mandate until September 2015, though any extension beyond that appears unlikely.
Paz y Paz: ‘The justice system protects us all’
In the final two years of the commission, Interior Minister Mauricio López Bonilla wants the organization to start training Guatemala’s police force on how to better handle investigations. Paz y Paz expects CICIG leadership to vet candidates for the newly founded General Criminal Investigations Bureau (Digicri in Spanish).
Since the appointment of Paz y Paz as attorney general in December 2010, “the number of cases resolved has nearly doubled,” according to a Reuters profile published May 2012.
Paz y Paz, praising CICIG’s conviction of the four officials involved in the extra-judicial executions as key to demonstrating respect for human rights, she said “the sentence sent a message out that no public official or citizen can violate the rule of law, because the justice system protects us all — even individuals who break the law."
The CICIG turned out to be a problem instead of a solution. As we say in Guatemala, the remedy was more expensive than the disease.
The reasons for its establishment were many, they had very high expectations, but people are very dissatisfied, starting with the work done by the first one, Castresana, and up to the departure of the second on September 2nd of 2013.