How to lead the campaign against corruption when authorities are part of the problem?
Ivan Velasquez is the Columbian lawyer who leads the international and UN-supported Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG). Velasquez, who is originally from Colombia, has withstood pressure and threats in order to get the truth on the table concerning corruption and abuse of power at the highest level of society. In Guatemala, political elites, military structures, and an authoritarian regime protect their own. Ivan Velasquez and the CICIG have experienced this first-hand.
This is why PWYP Norway has invited him as one of the main speakers at the conference "Making Transparency Possible" on December 14th in order to speak about "How the fight against corruption should be conducted when authorities are part of the problem?".
CICIG is behind the revelation of a number of high corruption scandals which until now have resulted in both the President and the Vice-president having to resign. In April 2015 CICIG published the result of an investigation of "La Linea"; a crime network which has swindled and conducted tax evasion. This disclosure was the last straw for the population of Guatemala, and the mass demonstrations started in the streets after CICIG published the results of the inquiry.
A month before the revelations from CICIG were published, PWYP Norway arranged an open seminar in Guatemala City with more than 160 participants from the extracting industry, public employees, students, civil society organizations, and international organizations and ambassadors. The seminar got much attention in the media and the hashtag "TransparenciaGT" (transparency in Guatemala) was one of the most frequently used in Guatemala that day.
Corruption was a word frequently used in the streets of Guatemala in 2015. Street protests and mass immobilizations of the population caused great upheavals in society. It was described as an extraordinary event where around 100,000 people took to the streets in the capital and thousands of others in various cities around the country. Almost 40 state-employed people in total, and many from the business sector, have been arrested. A desire for a society without corruption has united people from various sectors and classes of society who combined in a joint fight, and the strength that the people exhibited in their support for the CICIG, was massive.
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Dark forces bent on retaliation
The campaign against Ivan Velasquez has among others been led by an organization which calls itself "Fundacion contra el Terrorismo" (The Foundation Against Terrorism). This foundation was established precisely by those structures in Guatemalan society that wish to hide the truth; the ex-military, and the most reactionary war criminals.
The background for this was that the CICIG had conducted investigations in a new high corruption scandal which involved five bank directors in "Banco de Trabajadores" ("The Workers´Bank"). The five bank directors belonged to a criminal structure and were accused of making themselves rich at the cost of people with small savings through large-scale corruption. The corruption investigations led to the five bank directors´arrest. During the police action, the police apprehended the corrupt bank directors, but the previous finance minister Pavel Centeno died in the firefight that followed. The cause of death has not yet been made public. This occurred on October 28. 2016 during a police operation in zone 4 in Mixco.
The fourth Penal Court initially decided to handle the prosecution against Ivan Velasquez, but the current news is that the court has dismissed the case. If the prosecution had succeeded in a corrupt judicial system, he could have had his immunity taken away.
Velasquez and other employees in CICIG have immunity in their work with high corruption investigations in order to protect them against such attempts at stopping investigations, because such occurences are all too common. Velasquez could have been prevented from leaving the country to attend the conference here in Norway. That will fortunately not happen now.
- The judge, Miguel Angel Galvez, experienced something similiar not long ago. He is the judge in a high profile case, says Mariel Støen, Associate Porffesor at the Center for Development and Environment (SUM), at the University of Oslo, who is currently in Guatemala..
- People in Guatemala have given massive support to the corruption fighter Velasquez, she states. Velasquez and CICIG have great support among people in Guatemala and hundreds of thousands protested over several months when the high corruption scandals became known last year. Yesterday Velasquez thanked the people of Guatemala for the support he received and said there are dark forces at play that attempt to tarnish him and the work done in CICIG, says Støen.
In addition, Støen says that the American ambassador, Todd Robinson, was quick to support Velasquez publicly when the annual CICIG report was presented in Guatemala City on November 23. of this year.
Dangerous to follow money and power in Guatemala
Four high-profile judges from Guatemala, Yasmin Barros, Haroldo Vasquez, Miguel Angel Galvez, and Claudia Gonzales, were recently in Oslo as guests of the Judges Association´s human rights selection and the Lawyer´s Association during the Rule of Law Conference 2016 where the fight for a rule of law in Guatemala was the theme. The judges explained the costs of defending independent courts and the rule of law. One of the judges, Yasmin Barros, is the leader of a department in the Tribunal for high risk cases in Guatemala and has to have bodyguards with her at all times. Among other, she was awarded the "International Women of Courage" prize by Michelle Obama.
One of the Most Innovative Programs in the UN's Toolbox
In was ten years ago, in 2007, when Guatemala asked the United Nations for help to fight against the uncontrolled development of organized crime in the country. Such effort led to the creation of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (known in Guatemala under the acronym CICIG). Many believe that the work that CICIG has done is one of the most important achievements of the UN.
The newspaper The Nation writes that the creation of CICIG is considered as one of the most innovative programs the UN has created and that it can serve as a model for the world in relation to how lawlessness can be handled.
The CICIG is an "indispensable partner" in a country where one needs to fight against organized crime and corruption, says James A. Goldston, executive director of the Justice Initiative. "In the past eight years, CICIG has played a crucial role in Guatemala: strengthening prosecutors, limiting corruption and prosecuting serious criminals. It has given international support for a much-needed judicial reform and strengthen state institutions for a better democratic system." The Commission is a unique joint effort between the UN and the Guatemalan government; it receives financial and technical support from the international community, and although it is headed by international staff, it operates within Guatemalan law and legal system.
Norway has supported CICIG and its fight against corruption in Guatemala, and along with the Jurists Association for Human Rights (Juristforbundet), it has a cooperative project with Guatemalan judges.