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A Soft Coup in Guatemala

A Soft Coup in Guatemala

A Soft Coup in Guatemala

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

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

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

Accountability for past conflict crimes and the issue of endemic corruption are intently linked in Guatemala. The political system put in place in the course of the peace process 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 past and the corruption of its current.

Public concern over Morales’s expulsion of the International Fee Towards Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, was palpable in 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 country. The following 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 tackle. The speech, and the visibly heightened policing that accompanied it, coincided with a day of nationwide protests towards Morales’s choice to preemptively end CICIG’s mandate.

Morales’s opposition to CICIG is private: in 2017 the commission helped ship his brother and son to trial for fraud. That same yr it began an investigation into illegal marketing campaign financing in the course of the 2015 elections that focused Morales instantly. 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 during 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 remove dozens of present and former members of congress and justices from the nation’s supreme and appeals courts. The commission’s investigations have helped dismantle several drug and extortion rings and led to the imprisonment of former president Otto Pérez Molina and former vice-president Roxana Baldetti, both arrested on corruption costs in 2015.

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

For Carlos Barrios, an activist and congressional candidate in the upcoming national elections this June, the connection between corruption and large-scale socioeconomic marginalization is obvious. “Corrupt governance means taking resources directly from various public ministries,” he stated in January. “If we think about public health, for instance, corruption will continue to undermine the healthcare system in a country where the majority of the population doesn’t have the economic capacity to pay for private services.”

It came as no surprise to Barrios that the highly effective business foyer CACIF, the Coordinating Committee for Agricultural, Business, Industrial, and Financial Associations, shortly and heartily endorsed Morales’s choice to expel CICIG. Barrios pointed to Morales’s current refusal to boost the nationwide minimum wage in the pursuits of CACIF—the “national oligarchy” he referred to as it—as yet one more example of corruption’s dangerous effects on the general public.

Barrios’ activist work with the organization Servicios Jurídicos y Sociales (SERJUS) seeks to deal with wide-scale underdevelopment, economic inequality, judicial and political reform, and the erosion of democratic processes—the results of which affect the country’s most traditionally weak rural and indigenous sectors. Like many activists engaged on behalf of these groups each during and after the armed battle, Barrios considers the CICIG determination a “soft coup.”

The description is apt, not only as a result of Morales seeks to free the 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 that have, in part, maintained an extant, albeit feeble, democratic apparatus following the transition to civilian rule in the last years of the armed battle.

Regardless of the current administration’s sluggish and steady undermining of democratic processes, “the coming election results are more sensitive than the electoral process itself because the current administration has fomented so much support for a regressive agenda that undermines the public interest,” Barrios stated. The consideration of laws that may free convicted struggle criminals is but one notably startling instance of that regression.

For Meilen Ninette Godínez, the regional coordinator of girls’s rights advocacy organization Asociación Ixoqib Miriam, the hostile circumstances dealing with activists in Guatemala is another. 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 in the course of the civil warfare.

Many Guatemalans alive at present have endured in half—or in its entirety—the horrific armed conflict following the CIA-backed coup that toppled democratically elected leader Jacobo Arbenz in 1954. Caught in the crosswinds of early Cold Warfare 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 approach to unspeakable army repression predominantly concentrating on the agricultural and indigenous populations whose access to healthcare, schooling, employment, and safety are undermined still at this time by the type of authorities corruption CICIG sought to stifle.


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

In mild of the long history of U.S. intervention in Latin America and the GOP’s own current, specific appeals for a coup in Venezuela, such sudden concern on the part of Republicans for Guatemala’s sovereignty is obviously 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 displays of help for the commission. 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 in style sovereignty but CICIG undermines it will be a laughable, have been it not for the number 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 historically radical public University of San Carlos. “Guatemala has always had to respond to private interests. To talk about sovereignty as it pertains to CICIG is a lie.”

As historian Alejandro Velasco lately wrote concerning the present crisis in Venezuela, geopolitical showdowns sometimes harm 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 material help to Guatemala’s violent army regimes over the latter half of the 20 th century. The civil conflict the USA largely helped create led to the demise and disappearance of some 200,000 predominantly indigenous Guatemalans. Immediately, Washington’s try and subvert worldwide anti-corruption initiatives is undermining the potential empowerment of those similar historically dispossessed communities. A poster stuck to the wall of a building adjoining to Quetzaltenango’s central park in the course of the January 14 protest renders the historic and political connections between these forces clear. It calls for nationwide mobilization in massive purple capital letters: “because corruption and impunity are robbing us of public services, education, health, security, work, and a dignified life.”

It might be an oversimplification to assume that national sovereignty inevitably assures a better quality of life or meaningful self-determination for bizarre Guatemalans. Even so, the connection between a country’s sovereignty and its population’s entry to democratic and social protections is real. The tendency of the USA to justify overseas intervention in the identify of granting in style self-determination throughout nationwide borders, nevertheless, is the White Home’s imperial illogic par excellence. One want only look to the U.S. border with Mexico to see what American politicians’—and in specific Republicans’—concern for the lives of Central People from marginalized backgrounds seems like. And these migrants are of the identical demographic groups that anti-corruption initiatives like CICIG are supposed to shield. That U.S. participation in the Central American soiled wars of the 1980s exacerbated the circumstances of violent and material dispossession for the populations it now persecutes at the southern border is just not coincidence, but continuity.

Because the dirty wars, the USA’ repeated destabilization of Latin American nations has proved constant even in its forged of characters. As Washington appears 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 same 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, perhaps Guatemala’s bloodiest dictator. Ríos Montt was convicted of genocide and crimes towards humanity and was awaiting a retrial on those same costs when he died in April of final yr.

U.S. officials’ 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 further intervention. And the somewhat obfuscated means by which Washington is appearing this time to affect Guatemalan politics weaves an internet all of the more according to america’ dark history of fueling conflict in Latin America.

“Visible militarization has always been the Guatemalan state’s preferred means to stifle dissent,” Herbert Loarca stated of Morales’s determination to swath the congressional building in hundreds of police on the day of his speech in January. “The government figures there’s no need to bolster public health or education when it could simply send more police and soldiers into the streets.”

Miriam Pensack is writer and researcher masking Latin America and U.S. overseas policy, human rights, and nationwide security. She lives in Brooklyn.

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