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A Soft Coup in Guatemala

A Soft Coup in Guatemala

A Delicate Coup in Guatemala

President Jimmy Morales kicked out a world anti-corruption fee established on the finish of the nation’s decades-long civil conflict. In doing so, he provoked a constitutional disaster.

Miriam Pensack ▪ March 14, 2019
Protestors make their solution to Quetzaltenango’s Central Park to protest Gutemalan President Jimmy Morales’s nationwide tackle on January 14, 2019. (Miriam Pensack)

The Guatemalan Congress suspended a vote on March 13 for ultimate approval of laws that may free dozens of army officers convicted of genocide, torture, and crimes towards humanity through the civil conflict that ravaged the nation between 1960 and 1996. The prosecution of greater than thirty army officers was made potential by the Regulation of Nationwide Reconciliation integral to the 1996 peace accords that ended the thirty-six-year battle. However because the proposed amnesty invoice suggests, whereas the battle itself is over, the wrestle over its legacy shouldn’t be.

Accountability for previous struggle crimes and the issue of endemic corruption are intently linked in Guatemala. The political system put in place through the peace course of enabled widespread graft. Current strikes by Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales—who dismantled the nation’s UN-backed anti-corruption fee earlier than unilaterally ousting it in January—exemplify the hyperlink between the crimes of the nation’s previous and the corruption of its current.

Public concern over Morales’s expulsion of the Worldwide Fee Towards Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, was palpable within the streets of Guatemala Metropolis following the president’s January 7 proclamation that the panel’s worldwide prosecutors had twenty-four hours to go away the nation. The next week, on January 14, 7,000 policemen stood guard outdoors the nationwide congress as Morales delivered his third annual informe de Gobierno, the nation’s equal to the State of the Union handle. The speech, and the visibly heightened policing that accompanied it, coincided with a day of nationwide protests towards Morales’s choice to preemptively finish CICIG’s mandate.

Morales’s opposition to CICIG is private: in 2017 the fee helped ship his brother and son to trial for fraud. That very same yr it started an investigation into unlawful marketing campaign financing in the course of the 2015 elections that focused Morales immediately. Most of the president’s critics see CICIG’s banishment as an act of self-preservation.

Morales’s maneuver rings all of the extra sinister given his help of the fee throughout his 2015 electoral bid. A former comic, Morales entered politics as an outsider and campaigned on his distance from the notoriously corrupt system. His slogan then was “ni corrupto, ni ladrón”—“neither corrupt, nor a thief.”


CICIG has labored alongside the Guatemalan lawyer basic since 2006 to research, prosecute, and take away dozens of present and former members of congress and justices from the nation’s supreme and appeals courts. The fee’s investigations have helped dismantle a number of drug and extortion rings and led to the imprisonment of former president Otto Pérez Molina and former vice-president Roxana Baldetti, each arrested on corruption expenses in 2015.

However whereas the investigation might threaten Morales’s political future, it’s the Guatemalan individuals who discover themselves most weak following CICIG’s ousting.

For Carlos Barrios, an activist and congressional candidate within the upcoming nationwide elections this June, the connection between corruption and large-scale socioeconomic marginalization is obvious. “Corrupt governance means taking assets immediately from numerous public ministries,” he stated in January. “If we take into consideration public well being, as an example, corruption will proceed to undermine the healthcare system in a rustic the place nearly all of the inhabitants doesn’t have the financial capability to pay for personal providers.”

It got here as no shock to Barrios that the highly effective enterprise foyer CACIF, the Coordinating Committee for Agricultural, Business, Industrial, and Monetary Associations, shortly and heartily endorsed Morales’s determination to expel CICIG. Barrios pointed to Morales’s current refusal to boost the nationwide minimal wage within the pursuits of CACIF—the “nationwide oligarchy” he referred to as it—as yet one more instance of corruption’s dangerous results on the general public.

Barrios’ activist work with the group Servicios Jurídicos y Sociales (SERJUS) seeks to deal with wide-scale underdevelopment, financial inequality, judicial and political reform, and the erosion of democratic processes—the results of which have an effect on the nation’s most traditionally weak rural and indigenous sectors. Like many activists engaged on behalf of those teams each throughout and after the armed battle, Barrios considers the CICIG choice a “delicate coup.”

The outline is apt, not solely as a result of Morales seeks to free the federal government’s government from worldwide oversight, however as a result of the choice to unilaterally finish CICIG’s mandate earlier than its scheduled conclusion in September of this yr disregards rulings from Guatemala’s Constitutional Courtroom, undermining the system of checks and balances which have, partially, maintained an extant, albeit feeble, democratic equipment following the transition to civilian rule within the final years of the armed battle.

Regardless of the present administration’s sluggish and regular undermining of democratic processes, “the approaching election outcomes are extra delicate than the electoral course of itself as a result of the present administration has fomented a lot help for a regressive agenda that undermines the general public curiosity,” Barrios stated. The consideration of laws that may free convicted warfare criminals is however one notably startling instance of that regression.

For Meilen Ninette Godínez, the regional coordinator of girls’s rights advocacy group Asociación Ixoqib Miriam, the hostile circumstances dealing with activists in Guatemala is one other. In 2018, twenty-six organizers have been killed, lots of them members of rural improvement organizations advocating for indigenous Maya populations towards which the Guatemalan state unleashed a genocidal wave of violence through the civil warfare.

Many Guatemalans alive at the moment have endured partially—or in its entirety—the horrific armed battle following the CIA-backed coup that toppled democratically elected chief Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. Caught within the crosswinds of early Chilly Conflict communist phobia and materials threats to non-public U.S. capital, what had been a ten-year experiment in Guatemalan democracy got here crashing down. Six years later, that violence gave strategy to unspeakable army repression predominantly concentrating on the agricultural and indigenous populations whose entry to healthcare, schooling, employment, and safety are undermined nonetheless at present by the kind of authorities corruption CICIG sought to stifle.


The Trump administration has remained comparatively mum in response to Morales’s transfer to oust CICIG, a silence that serves as its personal type of tacit approval. Morales, nevertheless, has acquired vocal help from a number of Republican legislators, together with Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker, who lauded CICIG’s expulsion on the Senate flooring in January. Wicker, together with Florida Senator Marco Rubio and New Jersey Consultant Chris Smith, pointed to CICIG’s ostensible infringement on Guatemalan nationwide sovereignty because the central justification for the fee’s expulsion.

In mild of the lengthy historical past of U.S. intervention in Latin America and the GOP’s personal current, specific appeals for a coup in Venezuela, such sudden concern on the a part of Republicans for Guatemala’s sovereignty is clearly farcical. And behind the Trump administration’s out-of-character reticence, a current Overseas Coverage investigation revealed a number of prime appointees’ imbrication in makes an attempt to thwart CICIG’s operation in Guatemala. U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley sought to chop funding to CICIG and urged U.S. Ambassador Luis Arreaga to curb public shows of help for the fee. In 2017, Marvin Mérida, an aide to Jimmy Morales, signed a contract with an Indiana-based lobbying agency whose managing associate has been amongst Mike Pence’s prime fundraisers.

The concept Washington cares about Guatemalan well-liked sovereignty however CICIG undermines it will be a laughable, have been it not for the variety of rural and largely indigenous Guatemalan lives compromised, destroyed, and ended by the hand of U.S. empire. “Guatemala hasn’t been sovereign since colonization,” stated Herbert Loarca, an economics professor on the traditionally radical public College of San Carlos. “Guatemala has all the time had to answer personal pursuits. To speak about sovereignty because it pertains to CICIG is a lie.”

As historian Alejandro Velasco just lately wrote concerning the present disaster in Venezuela, geopolitical showdowns sometimes hurt the populations that competing nations and supranational organizations declare to serve. Guatemala is not any exception. The USA laid a lot of the groundwork and offered no small quantity of fabric help to Guatemala’s violent army regimes over the latter half of the 20 th century. The civil battle the USA largely helped create led to the demise and disappearance of some 200,000 predominantly indigenous Guatemalans. At the moment, Washington’s try and subvert worldwide anti-corruption initiatives is undermining the potential empowerment of those similar traditionally dispossessed communities. A poster caught to the wall of a constructing adjoining to Quetzaltenango’s central park through the January 14 protest renders the historic and political connections between these forces clear. It requires nationwide mobilization in massive pink capital letters: “as a result of corruption and impunity are robbing us of public providers, schooling, well being, safety, work, and a dignified life.”

It might be an oversimplification to imagine that nationwide sovereignty inevitably assures a better high quality of life or significant self-determination for unusual Guatemalans. Even so, the connection between a rustic’s sovereignty and its inhabitants’s entry to democratic and social protections is actual. The tendency of the USA to justify overseas intervention within the identify of granting common self-determination throughout nationwide borders, nevertheless, is the White Home’s imperial illogic par excellence. One want solely look to the U.S. border with Mexico to see what American politicians’—and particularly Republicans’—concern for the lives of Central People from marginalized backgrounds seems to be like. And these migrants are of the identical demographic teams that anti-corruption initiatives like CICIG are supposed to shield. That U.S. participation within the Central American soiled wars of the 1980s exacerbated the circumstances of violent and materials dispossession for the populations it now persecutes on the southern border is just not coincidence, however continuity.

Because the soiled wars, america’ repeated destabilization of Latin American nations has proved constant even in its forged of characters. As Washington seems poised for a extra specific type of intervention in Venezuela, it’s none aside from Elliott Abrams, former assistant secretary of state for human rights underneath Ronald Reagan, who was appointed as particular envoy to the nation—the identical Elliot Abrams convicted in the course of the Iran-Contra scandal and who, beneath President Reagan, fought in Congress for U.S. army and diplomatic help to again Efraín Ríos Montt, maybe Guatemala’s bloodiest dictator. Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes towards humanity and was awaiting a retrial on those self same fees when he died in April of final yr.

U.S. officers’ clandestine help for Jimmy Morales’s anti-CICIG maneuvers is yet one more manifestation of the propensity of U.S. empire to supply the very issues it seizes upon to justify additional intervention. And the considerably obfuscated means by which Washington is appearing this time to have an effect on Guatemalan politics weaves an internet all of the extra according to america’ darkish historical past of fueling battle in Latin America.

“Seen militarization has all the time been the Guatemalan state’s most popular means to stifle dissent,” Herbert Loarca stated of Morales’s determination to swath the congressional constructing in hundreds of police on the day of his speech in January. “The federal government figures there’s no have to bolster public well being or schooling when it might merely ship extra police and troopers into the streets.”

Miriam Pensack is author and researcher overlaying Latin America and U.S. overseas coverage, human rights, and nationwide safety. She lives in Brooklyn.

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