Politics, Business & Culture in the Americas

CICIG’s Future in Guatemala

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It’s not often that people come to the United Nations to praise its achievements. Accusations and recriminations are far more common around here. That’s why one press conference last week left many journalists befuddled: a delegation of prominent Guatemalans came all the way to UN headquarters to praise the international body’s work, and to urge it to stay in the country past the end of the mandate next year.

Specifically, they were discussing the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión International Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala, or CICIG).

“The role of CICIG is a light,” said Rigoberta Menchu, nobel laureate and activist.

And indeed, CICIG has plenty to be proud of. Since it started its work just two years ago, the organization has managed to fire thousands of corrupt policemen, as well as one attorney general, 10 chief prosecutors and three supreme court justices. CICIG has also tried and convicted some 130 Guatemalan criminals, including a former president and a former foreign minister.

The former Guatemalan vice president, Eduardo Stein, was also on hand and echoed Menchu’s metaphor.

“Yes, there is light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “The staggering results after just two years show that indeed there are good people in our public institutions.”

The question, of course, is what will happen next in Guatemala. Yes, of course there are “good people” in the country. But it is generally agreed that Guatemala has a deep-rooted culture of impunity, one which gathered strength during the country’s 36-year civil war and has survived the return of democracy.

This culture can’t be wiped out easily. And most people seem to agree that Guatemala is nowhere near ready to take on its rampant institutional corruption.

“We’re convinced that we need more time,” said Stein. “The training, the experience sharing, the institutional strengthening process will need more time.”

CICIG is mandated to help train Guatemalans and strengthen its institutions. But in spite of all the praise and back-slapping, CICIG has not had a perfectly smooth relationship with the Guatemalan government. Carlos Castresana, the head of CICIG, regularly complains that the country’s weak laws prevent him from carrying out his work. And Congress has failed to pass the sweeping anti-impunity laws that he’s demanded—leaving the country’s institutions ill-prepared to fight corruption.

CICIG’s mandate has already been extended once: it’s now due to expire in September 2011. Guatemala‘s mission to the UN says it still has not yet decided whether to ask for another extension.

The verdict at last week’s press conference, though, was clear: CICIG should stay on, and its mandate should be broadened so that it has the power to fight organized crime and corruption.

Everyone pointed out that the kind of corruption that plagues Guatemala is also an international problem, since organized crime tends to operate across borders.

But Rigoberta Menchu, who addressed the crowd with her customary straight-forward gaze, put the matter the most succinctly.

“The international community has to share this mission with us,” she said. “We are worried about Guatemala‘s future—and the role of the international community is fundamental.”

*Kate Prengel is a guest blogger to AmericasQuarterly.org. She is a journalist based at the United Nations.

Tags: CICIG, Eduardo Stein, Guatemala, Rigoberta Menchu, United Nations
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