Too Much Success? The Legacy and Lessons of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala
106 Pages Posted: 2 Feb 2020 Last revised: 15 Mar 2020
Date Written: January 2020
The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) represents an innovative effort to curb criminal threats to democratic rule and to strengthen state capacity that diverged from the dominant mode of technical assistance. Working through treaty-based international authority, this “hybrid” U.N.-backed mission combined international and national capacities working through Guatemalan laws and courts. The Commission successfully investigated and helped prosecute multiple high-ranking Guatemalan officials, ex-military officers and business elites. Those investigations precipitated anti-corruption protests that ousted the sitting president and vice president in the “Guatemalan Spring” of 2015. CICIG investigations led to 1,540 indictments in 120 cases involving over 70 illicit networks. The mission showed Guatemalans that the rule of law can be applied even to the most powerful, had far-reaching political impact, and contributed to the effectiveness of the Attorney-General’s office.
Yet by the time the mission closed in 2019 after twelve years of operation, a cloud hung over its legacy. As CICIG’s cases ensnared an expanding array of top businessmen, officials and political parties, economic and political elites launched an anti-CICIG media campaign and hired lobbyists to undermine what had been strong bipartisan support for the mission’s biggest financial backer, the United States. President Jimmy Morales, elected on an anti-corruption platform in 2015, turned against the Commission after his brother and son were indicted. Morales and his allies won some support from the Trump administration in decrying the Commission as a violation of national sovereignty. Yet during its final years, CICIG’s support in public opinion polls never fell below 70%.
Leaving behind a complex legacy, CICIG both inspired a jaded Guatemalan citizenry to stand up to corrupt officials and galvanized former political enemies around the common perceived threat of the Commission. This report evaluates the history of CICIG to analyze its impact on Guatemalan political life and to draw lessons for future hybrid anti-impunity missions.
Keywords: CICIG, Guatemala, Corruption, Impunity, Justice
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