Guatemala Attorney General Thelma Aldana

Guatemala's Attorney General's Office and international anti-impunity body CICIG are gearing up for a battle against municipal-level corruption in 2016, drawing attention to the role of local officials in creating hubs for criminal activity.

On January 20, Guatemala's Attorney General Thelma Aldana confirmed her office would work with the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) during 2016 to combat corruption at the municipal level, reported El Periódico.

Iván Velásquez, head of the CICIG, said, "corruption in the municipalities is an important topic for the country" and one that cannot be overlooked in order to build on previous anti-corruption efforts. 

Guatemala has 338 municipalities.

Guatemalan prosecutors and CICIG officials met on January 18 to discuss the formation of joint investigation teams, as well as investigative priorities and strategy. Days later, on January 21, authorities arrested 10 former municipal officials, including the ex-mayor of colonial city Antigua Guatemala on corruption charges, reported La Hora.

US Ambassador to Guatemala Todd Robinson also weighed in, saying during a conference attended by Guatemalan mayors that the US government was interested in partnering with and supporting local officials who were ready to eradicate corruption.

InSight Crime Analysis

The emphasis on corruption at the municipal level follows a milestone year for prosecutors in Guatemala. Investigations into corruption at the national level led to the arrest and prosecution of numerous high-level Guatemalan officials, including President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti.

SEE ALSO: Guatemala News and Profiles

Following these landmark victories prosecutors are now turning their attention to the local level, where corruption is perhaps most widespread. Indeed, some municipal officials have managed to establish criminal fiefdoms by creating corruption networks involved in graft and embezzlement, as well as by collaborating with drug traffickers.  

The formation of these local criminal empires has been facilitated in part by the decentralization of power in Guatemala, leading to what one Guatemalan official described to InSight Crime as the "democratization of corruption." Greater control over budgets and security forces has provided mayors with more opportunities to engage in criminal activity.

This phenomenon can also be seen in neighboring Mexico. The devolution of power during the 1990s away from the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional – PRI) resulted in a more decentralized and regionalized political system, which enabled criminal interests to more easily infiltrate and intimidate local governments. This trend has been accelerated by broader shifts in Mexico's criminal landscape, in which smaller criminal groups with diverse criminal portfolios are increasingly looking to co-opt officials within their limited sphere of influence.