The Guatemala Interior Ministry’s decision to remove police assigned to the CICIG, the internationally-backed anti-graft body, is likely a sign that the president has chosen the ministry as his go-to instrument to weaken the CICIG’s efforts against impunity and corruption.
On July 4, the Interior Ministry withdrew 20 officers assigned as security to the facilities and personnel of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional Contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG), ordering them to be reassigned to citizen security duties.
This was not the first time the Morales administration cut off collaboration between the National Civilian Police (Policía Nacional Civil — PNC) and the international commission.
As Holy Week began in March 2018, the Interior Ministry ordered the withdrawal of another 11 agents from the CICIG, claiming that the move was temporary and in keeping with the requirements for extra security during the holidays. The 11 officers did not return to the CICIG until Commissioner Iván Velásquez publicly demanded it.
Earlier, in December 2017, the president’s face-off with the commission and the Attorney General’s Office intensified in response to advances in their investigations against him. The government impeded the provision of 27 police officers trained and vetted specifically for working with the CICIG.
In total, since 2017, the Guatemalan government has withdrawn almost two thirds of the police officers originally assigned to the international commission. Velásquez said the transfers have affected the security of the commission and its personnel, both national and international.
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The Interior Ministry’s role in the declining relationship between the Morales administration and the CICIG and the AG's Office was sealed at the end of 2017, when the president appointed Enrique Degenhart as the new interior minister. Degenhart replaced Francisco Rivas, who had worked closely with the two entities on several high-impact cases, including investigations against Morales and members of his inner circle.
Minister Degenhart seems to be looking for any way to distance himself from the CICIG and the Attorney General’s Office. At the end of April, two PNC agents conducted fieldwork at a condominium building in Guatemala City. They were verifying the address of a business involved in a case they were investigating. However, Minister Degenhart also happens to live in the building, and reportedly used the coincidence to allege that the CICIG was investigating him and to reassign the officers.
Civil society has targeted the minister’s behavior. In the wake of the most recent reassignment that pulled agents from the CICIG, the Citizen's Front Against Corruption (Frente Ciudadano contra la Corrupción), a group whose members come from the business, political and civil society sectors, expressed its “disapproval and indignation” regarding Degenhart’s decision. In response, the minister stated that he believed the CICIG had “sufficient” security personnel and that the agents would be reassigned in accordance with a citizen security plan focused on reducing homicides.
The minister’s grudges seem to follow CICIG collaborators even after they leave their posts. Guatemalan media outlets have reported that the Interior Ministry ordered changes to former Attorney General Thelma Aldana’s government-provided security services. During her time in office, Aldana was one of the CICIG’s main allies in the criminal persecution of corruption and organized crime structures entrenched in the government.
Aldana’s security plan originally included at least three armored four-wheel-drive vehicles. Two pick-up trucks were also to be assigned to her immediate family. Recent replacements for the vehicles, however, needed serious repairs. For example, one did not have breaks, and its transmission was malfunctioning. According to Guatemala’s Human Rights Ombudsman Jordán Rodas, the former Attorney General reported the faulty vehicles in a letter, stating that she feared for her life.
Local media outlets have also reported the arrest of PNC agent Osmín Ramos, brother of former police chief Nery Ramos - Nery claims that the police officers that arrested his brother Osmín planted a firearm on him.
Shortly after taking over as Interior Minister, Degenhart dismissed Nery Ramos, who -- like Aldana -- collaborated with the CICIG and the Attorney General’s Office on their investigations. The former police chief has alleged that the agents who arrested his brother planted the weapon on him.
Both Ramos brothers and former Interior Minister Rivas have reported being monitored by unknown people and that they are taking precautions.
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Degenhart’s arrival to Guatemala’s Interior Ministry could be seen as one of the many moves President Jimmy Morales made in his cabinet to ensure he would be surrounded by loyal allies in his campaign against the CICIG. The confrontations seem to have begun with his retaliation against the commission and the Attorney General’s Office after they brought charges against him and his political party in August 2017 for illicit campaign financing in his presidential campaign.
Not only was Francisco Rivas replaced with a Morales ally, but Juan Solórzano Foppa was also dismissed from his position as head of Guatemala’s Internal Revenue Service (Superintendencia de Administración Tributaria – SAT). Foppa’s support was key in the Attorney General’s Office and CICIG successfully completing investigations against businesspeople and other officials close to the president.
Kamilo Rivera is shaping up to be another new Morales ally to join the cabinet, in this case as Degenhart’s vice minister. A source at the Attorney General’s Office who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons told InSight Crime that one of Rivera’s first acts in his new post was to order that any police work requested by the CICIG or the Attorney General’s Office, especially its anti-impunity unit (Fiscalía Especializada Contra la Impunidad – FECI), must first be approved by him. The source said this implies that information is already being leaked to criminal suspects and media outlets linked to political groups under investigation by the commission and the Attorney General’s Office.
The Foreign Affairs Ministry is another government body that has come in with Morales in his efforts to weaken Guatemala’s fight against corruption.
Once Morales appointed Sandra Jovel as the country’s new foreign affairs minister in August 2017, one of her first actions was to sign his declaration declaring CICIG head Iván Velásquez as persona non grata. Moreover, diplomatic sources consulted in Washington and Guatemala City say that she is coordinating lobbying efforts in the United States to weaken the commission.
The President and his allies will soon have another chance to strike at the CICIG, as Commissioner Velásquez’s visa allowing him to work in Guatemala is set to expire on September 18.