Civil Society, Headlines, Human Rights, Latin America & the Caribbean

GUATEMALA: Major Setback in Fight Against Corruption

Danilo Valladares

GUATEMALA CITY, Jun 8 2010 (IPS) - The resignation of the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Spanish judge Carlos Castresana, due to a lack of government support will make the already Herculean task of fighting corruption and impunity in this Central American country even more complex, human rights groups warn.

Castresana handed in his resignation to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon in New York, who thanked him and asked him to remain in his post until he found a replacement.

The U.N.-sponsored CICIG was set up to restore trust in institutions like the corruption-riddled police and justice system in Guatemala.

One of the key tasks of the ground-breaking initiative, which began to operate in January 2008, is to assist the Guatemalan public prosecutors’ office, the Supreme Court and the police in identifying the existence of illegal, clandestine armed security groups and their possible links to the state apparatus, in order to dismantle them.

Explaining his decision on Monday, the Spanish jurist said the agreement that gave rise to CICIG included obligations not only on the part of the United Nations and the international community, but also for the Guatemalan government, which “it is not living up to.”

A statement issued by U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s office said “The success of this partnership requires that the international commitment be matched by an equal commitment on the part of the national authorities.”

Castresana also urged social democratic President Álvaro Colom to remove the recently named attorney general, Conrado Reyes, who the jurist accused of securing his new job through deals with lawyers with ties to drug traffickers.

The Spanish judge also complained about a smear campaign against him, which he said was led by figures from the world of organised crime who feel threatened by CICIG’s work.

His announcement caused a stir because of the important role played by CICIG in a country where 98 percent of all murders go unsolved, and where 6,451 murders were committed, nearly 18 a day, in 2009. Of these cases, barely 230 convictions have been handed down by the courts, according to the U.N.-sponsored Commission, which was created at the request of the Guatemalan state.

Castresana’s departure will further weaken the justice system, because of his serious accusations against the authorities, Eleonora Muralles, an activist with the Movimiento Pro Justicia (Pro Justice Movement), a local non-governmental organisation, told IPS.

“This throws Guatemala into a state of alarm, of calamity almost, with regard to the question of justice, because it once again reveals the state’s lack of will to live up to Castresana’s demands for the passage of laws, support for the police, etc.,” said Muralles.

CICIG, which is to function until Sept. 4, 2011, has been asking the government for support for the construction of a maximum security prison and the professionalisation of the National Civil Police, and for an increase in the justice system’s budget.

It has also asked the legislature to approve a law against illicit enrichment and to reform other laws to make it possible to try corrupt officials or former officials.

But these demands have not been met.

Sandino Asturias, director of the non-governmental Centre for Guatemalan Studies (CEG), told IPS that Castresana’s resignation “is extremely serious, because it shows that the Guatemalan state has failed to live up to its commitment to fight impunity.”

Asturias and a score of other representatives of human rights groups met Monday night with President Colom to ask him to immediately remove the attorney general and address all of CICIG’s demands.

He said the announcement is a wake-up call to Guatemalan society, a warning that “neither Castresana nor God nor any commission is going to change this country if Guatemalans ourselves do not get involved in the process.”

CICIG’s arrival raised hopes for profound institutional changes in Guatemala, as it has overseen the selection of Supreme Court judges and played a key role in the January capture of former president Alfonso Portillo (2000-2004), who is accused of money laundering and embezzlement.

It also helped clarify the high-profile murder of prominent lawyer Rodrigo Rosenberg, who accused Colom and other high government officials of his murder in a video broadcast after his death, but was later found to have ordered his own assassination.

Jorge Santos, head of the International Centre for Human Rights Research (CIIDH), told IPS that the position taken by the government and the legislature will be key to dismantling the clandestine parallel power structures after Castresana’s departure.

The activist expressed concern that CICIG’s proposals to strengthen the justice system continue to be pushed to the backburner, because of “the enthronement of the criminal groups and parallel structures that have taken the Guatemalan state hostage.”

Claudia Samayoa, director of the non-governmental Human Rights Defenders Protection Unit (UDEFEGUA), told IPS that the government should show that it has no “arrangements” with any groups by immediately sacking the new attorney general.

In a press conference in which he did not accept questions from reporters, Colom said late Monday that Castresana’s resignation “is a call to the conscience of our security and justice system and to the three branches of the state to reflect on and understand the need for a real strengthening of the system.

“Sometimes we are limited, legally or with regard to governance or financing, as to how we can respond to their requests,” he also said, referring to CICIG’s demands.

He also announced that he would ask the new attorney general to respond to Castresana’s allegations.

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