Guatemala’s President Gives CICIG Extension a Green Light

Today, Guatemalan President Otto Pérez Molina announced at a press conference that he will ask the United Nations Secretary General to extend the mandate of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) for an additional two-year period. The current mandate of CICIG, which was first established in the country in 2007 to fight against impunity, was set to expire on September 3, 2015. Since CICIG’s creation, its mandate has been extended three times.

President Pérez Molina’s decision had been far from assured.  Early this year, he declared that the country no longer needed CICIG.  He then appointed a committee to examine the question and report back with a recommendation on the question of extension. The president of the Supreme Court, attorney general, the minister of interior, and director of the public defense institute composed the committee.  However, the ultimate decision remained in the hands of the president.

In the course of deliberations lasting more than three months, various national and international actors expressed support for CICIG’s continuation. Meanwhile President Pérez Molina repeatedly expressed his reluctance, saying that he would not cede to external pressure and would await the committee’s final report before making his decision. When the committee presented its final report to the president yesterday, it recommended extending CICIG’s mandate for two years.

The committee based its recommendations on an analysis of CICIG’s mandate and accomplishments.  It concluded that over the past seven years, CICIG has contributed to strengthening of criminal investigation capacities within the public prosecutor’s office. It also emphasized the legal reforms championed by CICIG, which has led to the adoption of ten new laws that aim to dismantle criminal organizations acting within public institutions.

The report also highlighted last week’s dramatic events, when CICIG and the prosecutor’s office jointly took down an alleged criminal network engaged in customs tax fraud.  Agents arrested 22 persons, including public servants working for the tax agency. The arrests pierced the inner circle of the executive, as CICIG and national prosecutors accused the private secretary to Vice President Roxana Baldetti, Carlos Monzón, of masterminding the scam. He was out of the country at the time of the arrests and remains at large. He is also the subject of an Interpol red notice.  Lending even greater suspense to the entire affair, in court on Friday, prosecutors played back wiretapped conversations of alleged participants in the network, which many observers interpreted as making fairly clear reference to Vice President Baldetti and President Pérez Molina himself.

The arrests may have shifted the politics around the issue of CICIG’s extension.  Conservative business interests welcomed the action, which also sparked a flood of supportive statements from international actors.  Among these was a statement from the European Union (EU) delegation and EU member states in Guatemala expressing their willingness to support the “ongoing work of CICIG” in coordination with domestic institutions.  While not an explicit call for CICIG’s extension, for the delegation the implied message marked a break with its previous public silence.

Organizations, institutions, and governments that had stressed the continuing need for CICIG in Guatemala welcomed President Pérez Molina’s decision today.  In a press bulletin, U.S. Ambassador Todd Robinson stated that he “applaud[s] President Pérez Molina’s leadership in the fight against organized crime and impunity.”

The next step in the process will be for the government to send an official letter to the United Nations in the coming days, asking to extend the collaboration for a further two-year period. The UN has already expressed a willingness to extend CICIG’s mandate.