In the new issue of Americas Quarterly, we asked people, “What would you tell the next U.S. president about Latin America?” To see other authors’ responses, click here.
Dear Mister / Madam President,
Latin America has been plagued by systemic corruption throughout its history and my country, Guatemala, is no exception. Yet in 2015, judicial authorities here managed to collect hard evidence of corruption on the part of the then-president, strip him of immunity, convince him to resign, and jail him. This was accomplished in a matter of months, without a drop of blood spilled.
As this extraordinary case proved, even Latin America’s smallest and most vulnerable countries can make enormous inroads against graft and fraud. By leading the region in an historic crackdown, Guatemala offers a model for other countries to follow. But we didn’t do it alone, and some of our neighbors may need outside help to ensure similar patterns of success.
Since becoming attorney general in May 2014, I have worked together with the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to lead a head-on attack on the impunity and corruption that compromise health, housing, education, employment, security and justice in Guatemala. The CICIG, an entity that arose from an agreement signed by the U.N. and the Guatemalan government, was intended to support the Public Ministry and other state institutions in investigating crimes committed by illegal groups, including those groups that had become entrenched in the state.
Many of these criminal bodies were broken up as a result of our joint efforts with the Public Ministry and CICIG. And in April 2015, we successfully presented the so-called La Linea case, involving contraband and customs fraud perpetrated by government officials at the highest level, including the former president and vice president. These and other actions, reinforced by a newly united and empowered citizenry, have produced tangible results and restored the Guatemalan people’s confidence in the justice system.
The Plan of the Alliance for Prosperity in the Northern Triangle, bolstered recently by development assistance funds from the U.S. government, is a welcome addition to this process. It represents a valuable opportunity for countries of the Northern Triangle to strengthen their efforts to combat corruption. We hope, therefore, that you will do everything in your power to ensure the plan is fully implemented.
You could go even further by ensuring that Washington’s policy toward Latin America is oriented toward strengthening judicial systems, preventing and combating impunity and corruption, and promoting transparency in public spending. For many across the region, from Mexico to Brazil, from Argentina to Panama, corruption is the number-one issue that voters say must be confronted. This is a change from previous generations, for whom unemployment or security were often the top issues. Governments that fail to rise to the challenge may eventually see their legitimacy and popular support erode, and may therefore be unstable partners. Those who succeed in combating impunity will enjoy great dividends.
We hope Washington will support and assist us in developing more transparent and effective tax collection systems. For our part, we hope to institute policies aimed at strengthening public institutions as well as optimizing the already active involvement of civil society. Our ultimate goal is to build genuine national projects throughout the region that create a lasting foundation for the pursuit of justice, truth, well-being, peace and solidarity.
Aldana is the attorney general of Guatemala