A recent report argues that the anti-graft body CICIG directly contributed to a drop in killings in Guatemala. But this analysis might be overly simplistic and may still fail to persuade the US government to provide essential funding and support.
The report, published by the International Crisis Group on October 24, claims that the United Nations-backed International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG) prevented more than 4,500 homicides between its implementation in 2007 and 2017.
To reach this conclusion, the report’s authors imagined there were two Guatemalas: one with the CICIG and one without. The latter was a hypothetical country created using economic and social data from selected Latin American countries with “strong similarities to pre-2007 Guatemala.”
Murder rates in Guatemala have dropped by five percent on average annually since 2007, the year in which the CICIG was implemented to shoulder the Attorney General’s Office in dismantling the powerful Illegal Clandestine Security Apparatuses (Cuerpos Ilegales y Aparatos Clandestinos de Seguridad – CIACS) criminal networks.
In what the report calls the “synthetic control," deaths rose by one percent annually over the same period.
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The study also argues that the international commission bolstered Guatemala’s investigative and prosecution capacities. Improvements in which the CICIG was "instrumental" ranged from the creation of a witness protection program, to the development of bullet ballistics and DNA forensics capacities. Guatemala's homicide conviction rate has jumped from seven to 28 percent between 2006 and 2013.
The CICIG has recently come under intense pressure from the administration of Guatemala President Jimmy Morales. In August 2018, Morales announced he would not renew the institution's mandate. This decision came after heavy backlash from elites targeted by the commission’s probes into alleged illicit campaign financing, including those involved in Morales’ successful 2015 presidential run.
InSight Crime Analysis
Despite its sophisticated methodology and innovative approach, the International Crisis Group's analysis of the CICIG's impact on homicides in Guatemala does not consider some key contributors to violence, including gangs, and is unlikely to persuade the White House to renew support for the anti-graft body.
While the CICIG has helped create better methods of investigation and inter-institutional collaboration, analyzing a reduction in homicides is always an extremely complex process. In the case of Guatemala, earlier reports have described diverse factors ranging from better local governance to improved emergency services, which increases victims' survival rates without influencing levels of violence.
Past studies have also highlighted the Morales administration's policy of deploying security resources to the country's 30 most violent municipalities. Such "hot spot" policing strategies that focus on areas that concentrate the most criminal activity have been shown to impact crime rates, including homicide levels.
Most of the CICIG’s work centers on investigating and prosecuting elite-level corruption and impunity. The commission does not focus on one of the main drivers of violence in Guatemala: street gangs.
SEE ALSO: Homicides in Guatemala Investigation
InSight Crime found in a 2017 investigation that 41 percent of homicides in one gang-controlled area could be “reasonably attributed” to gang-related activities. Guatemala's murder decrease could partly be the result of shifting gang dynamics. Increased criminal sophistication of the Mara Salvatrucha (MS13), for instance, was raised to explain some of the drop in homicides in neighboring El Salvador.
That is not to say that the commission doesn't have a role in cutting crime levels in Guatemala. Higher conviction rates have been found to correlate to lower crime levels, and the commission has been at the center of a broad societal push against impunity. This was evident once more this year when widespread protests broke out in support of the commission, and against backlash from targeted elites.
Still, the deep, structural efforts to which the CICIG is dedicated are tough to quantify and translate into murder statistics. This certainly complicates securing US political support for the CICIG, which has wavered since President Donald Trump took office in 2017.
Trump’s presidency has also brought an exodus of experienced diplomats and security experts, many of whom supported the UN-backed commission. This favors erratic decision-making at highest levels of US foreign policy, leaving the CICIG vulnerable to political attacks that endanger the essential US funding for it.