As the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, better known as CICIG, continues to put Guatemala’s elite on trial, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales said Tuesday he would not defend its commissioner-in-chief from the smear campaign launched against him.
While his own brother and son are both under preventive arrest over corruption charges, Morales argued that "if I did not defend my son, why would I defend others?" in a press conference, his first in months.
A few weeks ago, Iván Velásquez, CICIG's commissioner, gave an interview to CNN Español expressing his concern that the commission could be shut down because of a social media smear campaign against the CICIG's current investigations.
During the press conference, Morales even defended the people who have been spreading the rumors, adding that "If someone has something to say in Guatemala, he or she can say it freely."
CICIG has played a key role in rooting out and prosecuting corruption in the country, gaining particular attention in 2015 for revealing, along with the attorney general’s office, that former President Otto Perez Molina and his former Vice President Roxana Baldetti were at the center of a multi-million dollar bribery scheme. The investigations fueled mass popular protests that ultimately pressured both Baldetti and Perez Molina to resign.
CICIG’s success has become an international example in the fight against corruption in the region. In neighboring Honduras, the popular anti-corruption movement that gained momentum last year — and raised speculation of a "Central American Spring" alongside Guatemala — took to the streets in weekly marches for months to demand that the government and the U.N. set up CICIH, the Honduran equivalent of CICIG, to tackle widespread government corruption.
But the process of investigation is not without challenges. Velasquez warned last July that Attorney General Thelma Aldana was in a "real situation of danger" after receiving threats for her work uncovering corruption.
Such intimidation and attempted evasions of justice have a long history in Guatemala, where dictatorship-era perpetrators of crimes against humanity and genocide in the bloody 36-year civil war have only recently begun to be held accountable.
Many of the country's political and economic elite, including Perez Molina, have links to the military regimes that ruled Guatemala in the wake the 1954 U.S.-backed coup until the peace accords in the early 1990's.