The head of Guatemala's CICIG has responded to a smear campaign directed against him by saying that recently dismantled criminal networks are attempting to discredit the work of the highly-regarded international anti-impunity commission.
Due to increasing rumors on social media denigrating the head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG), Iván Velásquez gave an interview to CNN en Español on February 10 in which he denounced the ongoing attacks against him.
According to the head of the commission, the campaign began in 2015 but has intensified over the past few weeks. Velásquez said false rumors have circulated that there is a warrant out for his arrest in Colombia, his native country. Another rumor being spread on social media is that Velásquez has been removed as commissioner of the CICIG, according to La Hora. The Secretery General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, denied that claim and publicly supported the work of Velásquez and the commission.
The US Embassy in Guatemala also showed its support for Velásquez.
"We add ourselves to the honest Guatemalans that recognize [the] successful work of CICIG and Commissioner Ivan Velásquez," the Embassy wrote on Twitter, adding the hashtag #ISupportIván (#ApoyoAIván).
Guatemala (@usembassyguate) 11 de febrer de 2017
It appears that institutional support, however, has not yet extended to representatives of the Guatemalan government.
"There is no official voice condemning this smear campaign," Velásquez told CNN.
During a recent press conference, Velásquez said the same illicit networks that the CICIG has been investigating are responsible for the malicious attempts to damage his reputation.
"The people behind the campaigns are criminals who are part of these criminal structures," he said.
Velásquez' comments followed those by the president of the Foundation against Terrorism (Fundación contra el Terrorismo - FCT), Ricardo Méndez Ruiz, who argued that the CICIG was overstepping its mandate during an interview with CNN en Español on February 9.
The FCT, an organization that was created to support former military officers and to "avoid the distortion of past events," had filed an official complaint against Iván Velásquez in August 2016, according to the EFE press agency. The foundation has asked Jimmy Morales to lift Velásquez' diplomatic immunity.
The complaint argues that the CICIG had overstepped its mandate by participating in the investigation against 18 former military officers for possible war crimes committed during the country's civil conflict. According to the FCT, the CICIG's actions did not relate to corruption cases and were thus in violation of its mandate.
Méndez said that he supported the CICIG's efforts to fight against corruption and impunity, but that this could not be done if the CICIG itself acted outside legal boundaries.
InSight Crime Analysis
There are powerful reasons to believe Velásquez's assertion that the criminal networks currently under siege are behind the campaign to deligitimize him. In the past two years, CICIG and the Attorney General's Office has uncovered numerous corruption schemes run within the government, which have landed former President Otto Pérez Molina, his Vice President Roxana Baldetti and a host of his cabinet officials in jail.
And it now appears CICIG is targeting the judiciary, perhaps the most important institution and last frontier for dismantling what remains of Guatemala's mafia state. The commission announced the arrest last week of Supreme Court magistrate Blanca Aída Stalling Dávila, who allegedly pressured a judge overseeing a case involving her son.
The CICIG's success has made it immensely popular among Guatemalans and the international community. The Washington Office on Latin America noted that the #ISupportIván hashtag was among the most used in Guatemala on February 9, and a 2015 survey by La Prensa Libre found that 95 percent of respondents who knew about the CICIG approved of its work. The commission is the most trusted institution in the country, according to a June 2016 survey.
It would therefore be unthinkable for Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales not to renew CICIG's mandate, which has to be extended every two years and is set to expire in September 2017. Morales, a political upstart who ran for president on an anti-corruption platform, asked the UN in April 2016 to renew its mandate until 2019.
The only thing that could prevent the CICIG from continuing its work would be a major scandal, or successful attempts to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of the Guatemalan population about Velásquez's credibility. This appears to be precisely the intention of the recent smear campaign against CICIG and its commissioner. The attacks have been directed "apparently with the purpose of removing the commission" from the country, Velásquez told CNN.
The silence on the part of the Guatemalan government suggests its support for CICIG may not be as unwavering as Morales has previously indicated. The president's brother and son were arrested on corruption charges in January, and his political party was founded by ex-military personnel.
But as long as CICIG remains unassailable with the Guatemalan population, any action that Morales takes against the commission would amount to political suicide. It is hardly surprising, then, that Velásquez made his appeal directly to the Guatemalan people.
"What is the decision of the Guatemalan society?" Velásquez asked in a February 8 message posted on Twitter. "The fight against corruption and impunity, or the restoration of the status quo without punishment for abuses, criminality, bribes and corruption?"