Guatemala Focused on Head-of-State Accountability, Past and Present

Last week doctors completed their assessment of former dictator Efrain Rios-Montt’s mental fitness to be retried on charges of genocide and crimes against humanity.  Meanwhile, Guatemala’s Congress refused to lift current President Otto Perez Molina’s immunity from prosecution in relation to corruption allegations.  Congress also refused a bid to weaken the UN-backed mechanism behind that investigation, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).

Rios Montt Evaluation Complete

The high-risk trial court overseeing proceedings related to the retrial of former head-of-state Efrain Rios Montt cut short his stay in a private psychiatric hospital on Tuesday, August 11.  The court had originally ordered him to spend August 4-17 under observation at the facility, so that doctors could determine his fitness to stand trial.  But doctors who observed the former dictator while not sedated from August 4 to 11 said they had obtained all of the information they needed for their final evaluation.  They also warned that continuing his hospitalization could have adverse psychological effects on Rios Montt.  The court’s order for Rios Montt to be released from the hospital followed a request to do so from state prosecutors.  Rios Montt returned home the same day.   The doctors’ assessment will be sent to the court on August 17, prior to a hearing on the matter scheduled for the following day.

Rios Montt is facing retrial together with his then-head of military intelligence Mauricio Rodriguez Sanchez in relation with the deaths of 1,771 Mayan Ixiles during the bloodiest period of Guatemala’s internal armed conflict. He was convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity and sentenced to 80 years in prison on May 10, 2013, while his co-defendant was acquitted on all charges.  However, ten days later the constitutional court overruled the verdict and ordered a retrial. Efforts to retry the general have been delayed by numerous challenges, with his fitness to face trial being the main point of dispute in recent months.

President Perez Molina Maintains Immunity

Last Thursday, August 13, an effort to strip current President Otto Perez Molina of immunity from prosecution and clear the way for his potential impeachment failed to attain the necessary two-thirds majority (105 votes) in Congress.  Opposition legislator Amilcar Pop introduced a motion for impeachment in May, accusing Perez Molina of involvement in two of the corruption scandals recently brought to light by joint investigations of the Office of the Attorney General and CICIG.   Thursday’s vote followed days of delays resulting from challenges raised by the president himself and an attempted intervention by lawyer Karen Fisher, acting in her capacity as a private citizen.

On July 3, a congressional investigative committee released a report recommending that the president lose his immunity and face criminal investigation for his possible involvement in corruption. However, the report required endorsement by two-thirds of the Congress in order for the president’s immunity to be lifted.  Congress only achieved the quorum necessary to consider the report last Thursday, but when it came to the vote, members of President Perez Molina’s Patriotic Party were able to ensure its defeat.  Barring a new motion with a different outcome, it now appears likely that the president will serve out his term and enjoy immunity until he leaves office on January 14, 2016.

Meanwhile, for a 17th consecutive week, around 5,000 people gathered in front of the parliament on Saturday to protest against corruption, demand Perez Molina’s resignation, and denounce the failure of the motion in Congress to remove his immunity.

Attempt in Congress to Restrict CICIG’s Role Fails

During the same congressional session on Thursday, legislators rejected a proposal to eliminate from the law on the Office of the Attorney General a provision allowing investigative assistance from international and national entities.  Opposition party Lider, favored to win national elections on September 6, introduced the bill. It appeared to be a bid to curtail CICIG’s role in Guatemala.  It also would have ended assistance to prosecutors provided by such national actors as the ombudsman’s office, civil parties, and the Forensic Anthropology Foundation of Guatemala.  Lider has undertaken a media campaign against CICIG ever since it linked Lider vice-presidential candidate Edgar Barquin to an alleged money laundering network as part of a joint investigation with the attorney general’s office.  Lider has accused CICIG of “judicializing” politics, and has brought its anti-CICIG message to the international scene.