Wednesday, March 30, 2016

CICIG in-depth (March 30, 2016)

If corruption is the new bogey man of Latin America – think protests across the region and against otherwise disparate governments -- the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) could be considered a sort of superhero that promises potential salvation from evil.

The U.N. office, mandated to independently investigate and prosecute under Guatemalan law starred in last year's revelation of a massive customs corruption scandal that wound up implicating the country’s vice president and president and forcing their resignations. (See post for Sept. 2, 2015, for example.)

The commission's success over the past eight years is a result of civil society demands and accompaniment, and has other countries demanding similar international cooperation. (See post for Oct. 16, 2015.)

An Open Society Justice Initiative report, reviews the first eight years of CICIG's work, looking at the commission's history, organizational strengths and weaknesses, and how it could work moving forward.

"CICIG's success in shedding light on the structures and practice of political corruption has overshadowed organizational challenges, questionable strategic choices, case management mistakes, and commissioner resignations across eight years of work. But CICIG's overall results have been remarkably positive, primarily as a result of the 2014-15 cases," according to the report.

"The cumulative pressures of CICIG’s interventions, often in collaboration with the newly dynamic Public Prosecutor’s Office, and a citizenry sufficiently fed up with corruption to take to the streets, have helped Guatemalans reach a juncture where major political reform has become a real possibility for the first time since the signing of the Peace Accords 20 years ago."

That being said, the report is also acknowledges criticism towards the commission "for excessive zeal in criticizing judges and for uneven management of its cases, lost visibility and dynamism during periods of strategic drift, failed to organize coherent capacity building programs, and endured the forced departure of two of its three commissioners."

A tantalizing possibility is that of exporting the CICIG model, which the report is cautious about. Actors in Mexico, Honduras and El Salvador, have expressed interest in a CICIG equivalent (see Jan. 20's post on the OAS mission to Honduras), and the U.S. and several Central American governments have discussed a regional CICIG to deal with organized crime, notes the report. 

"The Guatemalan experience, however, suggests caution, and a need for realism in assessing the conditions necessary for a CICIG-like entity to contribute to significant change. The CICIG model emerged out of five years of difficult negotiations across two government administrations, its final contours shaped by the confluence of local political, constitutional, and historical events. Once established, the Commission faced blockages at every turn. Only its ability to take advantage of fortuitous political events, and the support of the United States allowed it to work effectively."

Over at InSight Crime, Steven Dudley reviews the OSF report, together with another by the International Crisis Group. He argues that neither report really looks at the role of the U.S. in sustaining the CICIG financially and politically. Nearly half of the CICIG's $15 million annual budget is funded by the U.S. and it has diplomatically backed up the commission's work, he writes.

And the work is far from done, Dudley notes. Two cases from this year – one of which connects 16 military officers to important human rights violations (see Jan. 7's post) point to more work for the CICIG.

(InSight Crime will soon publish an investigation focusing on the difficult relationship of the CICIG with the very same elites it's investigating.)

The ICG report characterizes the CICIG as a crutch to catalyze institutional change in Guatemala. It emphasizes that the commission "is not a permanent fix, however. Guatemala will lose its opportunity unless national leaders assume the fight against impunity as their own, approve stalled justice and security sector reforms and muster the financial resources to strengthen domestic institutions."

Citizens exhausted of corruption have given the commission, and public prosecutors, broad public support, notes the ICG report, and in turn, their investigations have inspired a broad civic movement demanding reform and political change.

But, "anger over government fraud holds this movement together, rather than any clear agenda for change. Elected leaders should channel discontent into positive action by initiating a national debate on the reforms needed to strengthen justice and encourage accountability." And agenda the current President Jimmy Morales, a television comedian who campaigned as an anti-politician, seems ill prepared to move forward.

News Briefs
  • Venezuela's National Assembly passed legislation late yesterday that would amnesty activists considered political prisoners by the opposition. The new law, which promises to be a point of contention with the ruling PSUV, would free dozens of people, reports the Associated Press. The legislation was a key campaign promise for opposition legislators elected last year. President Nicolás Maduro said yesterday it was an attempt to protect terrorists and criminals, and reiterated his determination to veto it, reports Reuters. Maduro aides have said the law will be sent to the Supreme Court, which is staffed by the government loyalists, reports the Wall Street Journal. The National Assembly took up the bill and approved it hours later, a sneaky fast track accuses Maduro. The legislation would benefit high-profile government adversaries, such as Leopoldo López. Though the new law is unlikely to free activists from jail immediately, opposition lawmakers hailed it as a message of change, notes the WSJ.
  • Nearly two-thirds of Venezuelans think President Nicolás Maduro’s term should be prematurely ended this year, as the political opposition pushes to do exactly that, reports Reuters. (See March 9's post.) Some 63.6 percent of Venezuelans say Maduro should quit this year or be removed via a recall referendum, versus some 29.3 percent of Venezuelans who want him to keep governing until 2019, when his mandate ends, according to the poll seen by Reuters on Saturday.
  • Ruling PSUV party members in the western state of Tachira are accusing Colombian paramilitaries of shooting a supporter on the two countries border, reports the Latin American Herald Tribune.
  • El Salvador's government declared a state of emergency at seven prisons -- instituting a lockdown and suspending family visits for 15 days -- as well as transferring 299 high-ranking gang members, reports the Associated Press. It's the beginning of a series of "extraordinary measures" aimed at combating street violence. Additional measures, to be presented today in the legislature, could include deploying more soldiers in a security role and declaring states of emergency in conflict zones.
  • A video circulated over the weekend in El Salvador, shows purported gang leaders of the country's main street gangs, saying they had ordered a stop to homicides. In exchange, they demanded that the government not proceed with the measures to combat the gangs, reports the Associated Press. It's not clear, however, if the gangs possess the organizational cohesion to adhere to the orders, reports InSight Crime. El Salvador's government responded said it will not negotiate with criminal organizations, however, reports thAssociated Press
  • Colombia will announce formal peace talks with its second-largest rebel group, the ELN, reports Reuters. Cuba, Norway, Venezuela, Chile, Brazil and Ecuador will act as guarantor countries, according to a source from Colombia's peace commissioner's office. The talks will be separate from the ongoing FARC negotiations. The Colombian government and the ELN called a joint press conference for tonight, reports the Miami Herald. The two sides have been in exploratory talks for over a year, but have been stalled by obstacles that include the guerrilla group's continued use of kidnapping.
  • Brazil's Democratic Movement Party (PMDB) pulled out of President Dilma Rousseff's ruling coalition yesterday, removing crucial support that makes her impeachment more likely and could deepen the country's ongoing political and economic crises, reports the New York Times. (See yesterday's briefs.) The move could lead other, smaller, parties to defect from the coalition, according to the Guardian. The six year coalition ended with mutual accusations of betrayal and blame for Brazil's economic woes, reports the Wall Street Journal. Several PMDB members who are serving as ministers in the cabinet were asked to step down, a move which could increase already notorious political paralysis, according to the NYT.
  • Internal dissent in Cuba's Communist Party, regarding new levels of secrecy on the future of social and economic reforms, has reached unusual levels.Complaints among party members have become so heated that the official newspaper, Granma, addressed them in a lengthy front-page article Monday, reports the Associated Press. The paper called the public discontent, "a sign of the democracy and public participation that are intrinsic characteristics of the socialism that we're constructing." But some party members are not assuaged, and are calling for a party congress next month to  be postponed to allow public debate about the government's plans to continue market-oriented reforms.
  • Haiti is taking significant steps to resume last year's interrupted presidential elections. Late yesterday interim President Jocelerme Privert named nine new members to the Provisional Electoral Council (CEP), charged with organizing the runoff vote for president and some members of parliament, reports the Miami Herald. (See yesterday's briefs.)

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