The impunity rate in Guatemala increased last year even amid high-profile prosecutions by a heralded anti-graft body, laying clear the limitations of such independent commissions in bringing about long-term judicial change.
The rate of crimes that go unpunished in Guatemala averaged 94 percent over the past decade, but jumped to 97.6 percent in 2018, according to a June report by a United Nations-backed judicial appendage known as the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala — CICIG).
(Graphic c/o CICIG report)
Corruption crimes saw the highest rate of impunity at almost 99 percent, followed by robbery, violence against women, firearms offenses and extortion, according to the report. Drug crimes were more likely to be prosecuted, with just 59 percent of such crimes going unpunished.
Guatemala’s north-central department of Alta Verapaz — the site of allegedly shady dealings between drug traffickers and political operators in the past — had the highest impunity rate in the country at 96 percent. The coastal department of Escuintla — a murder hotspot in recent years — was just behind that at 95 percent, along with the departments of Guatemala, Retalhuleu, Suchitepéquez and Huehuetenango, the report found.
Baja Verapaz, Sololá and San Marcos departments all had impunity rates of 89 percent, the lowest of Guatemala’s 22 departments and the only ones to sink below 90 percent in 2018.
InSight Crime Analysis
Achieving lasting judicial reform is a monumental task. Even with an independent anti-corruption commission supporting the efforts of Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office, the latest report on impunity suggests that the country still has a lot of work to do.
Prosecutors from the CICIG and Attorney General’s Office uncovered a customs fraud network that sent former President Otto Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Baldetti to jail in 2015. More recently, prosecutors are investigating a former presidential candidate and several lawmakers for their alleged roles in a vote buying scheme to secure the approval of certain laws and judicial appointments, among other landmark corruption cases carried out by the commission.
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But in the face of such high-profile investigations, entrenched networks of elites — led by outgoing President Jimmy Morales — have worked tirelessly to undermine the anti-graft body’s work. As CICIG Commissioner Iván Velásquez stated in 2016, corruption in Guatemala is a “structural” problem that will take significant time to address, evidenced by the high rates of impunity still present in corruption cases.
With the CICIG’s mandate set to expire in September 2019, the future of the country’s anti-graft push is anything but certain. With this in mind, CICIG prosecutors recommend moving forward with plans to reform the country’s civil service law, which regulates the relationship between the state and its workers, in order to prevent official corruption and stop organized crime groups from co-opting government officials.
The CICIG also recommends strengthening state oversight bodies, rethinking the use of pretrial detention and reforming the process of selecting the country’s judges and attorney general, which, as InSight Crime documented in a 2017 investigation, has in the past been compromised by special interest groups.