Is Guatemala’s Fight Against Corruption Under Threat?

How Its Enemies Are Undermining Progress

Oscar Chinchilla, president of Guatemala's Congress, heads a meeting where lawmakers voted to preserve President Jimmy Morales's immunity from prosecution, in Guatemala City, Guatemala, September 2017.  Luis Echeverra / REUTERS

Over the past decade, Guatemala has made unprecedented progress in tackling corruption and impunity. The country has seen many powerful criminals, government officials, and influential elites who were once deemed untouchable face justice. This progress is due in great part to the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), a UN-backed agency that assists local institutions in exposing criminal networks that have infiltrated the state. Now, however, Guatemala’s progress and the CICIG itself are under threat.

CICIG critics have groped for an accusation that might stick, at times portraying the body as a tool for U.S. interests and at other times as a tool of Latin America’s far left. The most recent attack baselessly claims that the commission has colluded with the Kremlin. These allegations of Russian interference provided the CICIG’s enemies with a new strategy to diminish its support internationally, and the accusation has gained traction among a small minority of legislators in Washington. Reducing U.S. support for one of the most successful global anticorruption mechanisms would pose serious risks to Central American regional security, as well as to the security interests of the United States.


Created in 2006 as a result of an agreement between the Guatemalan government and the United Nations, the CICIG aims to dismantle criminal networks that emerged from Guatemala’s brutal civil war–era counterinsurgency structures. These criminal groups have used their relationships with politicians, security officials, and economic elites to co-opt the state and protect their illicit activities. Although the commission can initiate investigations and participate as a co-plaintiff in cases that fall within its mandate, it cannot carry out prosecutions, raids, arrests, or wiretaps on its own. Thus, the CICIG does not replace local institutions but works with them, strengthening the capabilities of Guatemala’s fragile justice system along the way.

Since 2007, alongside Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office, the CICIG’s investigations have resulted in the prosecution of powerful drug traffickers, extortion rings, politicians, and

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