A new report details the sweeping extent to which organized crime and interest groups have infiltrated Guatemalan politics.
Guatemala’s political parties derived around half of their financing through corruption, including 25 percent from wealthy elites and businesses and 25 percent from criminal organizations, Guatemala’s UN-backed anti-impunity body CICIG said in its latest report (pdf).
The situation is fostered by Guatemala’s costly election campaigns, weak campaign finance regulation, lack of independent media, and nearly complete impunity regarding political corruption, the CICIG said.
“Guatemala is the perfect country to commit electoral crimes without consequences,” CICIG head Ivan Velasquez Gomez said while presenting the report in a press conference.
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Over the last three decades, organized crime — particularly groups dedicated to drug trafficking and contraband — have infiltrated politics through money and violence. Meanwhile, wealthy elites and businesses have privately financed candidates and political parties to gain access to public resources and pursue special interests, the report said.
This mix of corrupt politicians, businesses, and organized crime often comes together to form ad hoc networks looking out for these special interests.
Central figures that the CICIG dubbed “recaudadores” — or collectors — are responsible for handling dirty money within these networks, in order to influence both local and national politics. “Recaudadores have been seen in every administration and they’ve wielded substantial influence over the Executive branch,” the report stated.
As the cost of running a political campaing in Guatemala is significantly higher than in neighboring nations, political hopefuls who aren’t willing to raise money through corruption are often unable to compete with well-financed rivals, the report added.
The CICIG outlines what corruption within Guatemala’s political finance system looks like
To remedy the situation, CICIG recommended the following:
- Mandating shorter and cheaper election campaign
- Greater controls over private campaign financing
- Requiring all campaign funds to flow through banks for better transparency
- Strengthening penalties for campaign finance irregularities
- Improving coordination between entities such as the nation’s tax authority and banking regulator.
InSight Crime Analysis
While political corruption via campaign financing is an issue for nearly every country in the world, the CICIG’s report is particularly timely given the string of corruption scandals that have plagued Guatemala this year and the nation’s upcoming general election in September.
While CICIG-backed investigations have snared numerous members of the current administration, opposition candidates have also been accused of corruption. As the CICIG’s latest report illustrates, dirty money and lack of transparency has allowed corruption to fester throughout Guatemala’s political landscape, regardless of the party in power.
Addressing these systemic issues will be painful for elites and businesses who benefit from the status quo, which makes it all the more telling that the governments of Honduras and El Salvador recently rejected the possibility of creating their own version of the CICIG.
Ivan Velasquez Gomez presents the CICIG’s report on political financing in Guatemala