Elites in Guatemala and Honduras are continuing their campaign to defang anti-corruption commissions in their respective countries with a series of new moves aimed at getting rid of the independent bodies or severely hampering their capabilities.
On March 18, Guatemala’s Interior Minister Enrique Dagenhart announced the transfer of 11 agents who had previously worked with the United Nations-backed anti graft body known as the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG).
In response, CICIG head Iván Velásquez released a statement to Dagenhart demanding the return of the agents and an explanation for the transfer. On March 21, Dagenhart replied that the move would be “temporary.”
In neighboring Honduras, recent press reports revealed that a group of lawyers representing five congressman who have been indicted on charges of corruption submitted a case earlier this month to the Supreme Court seeking to declare the Support Mission against Corruption and Impunity (Misión de Apoyo contra la Corrupción y la Impunidad en Honduras - MACCIH) unconstitutional.
Additionally, on March 20, the congress passed a law reforming asset forfeiture procedures to prevent it from being applied retroactively, among other things. Critics argued that the law was meant to protect corrupt elites from having the proceeds of their illicit activities seized by authorities.
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The recent attempts by entrenched elites to undermine the CICIG and the MACCIH are a continuation of stepped-up efforts to derail anti-graft drives in recent months.
A law passed in Honduras in January essentially stripped the ability of the Attorney General’s Office to effectively investigate the management of public funds. The passage of the law spurred the resignation of MACCIH head Juan Jiménez Mayor, who called it an “impunity pact.”
The most recent attempt to challenge the constitutionality of MACCIH has the potential to terminate the commission altogether. The future of MACCIH is now in the hands of the Supreme Court, which is packed with allies of current President Juan Orlando Hernández, who himself has faced allegations of corruption.
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A similar trend has been observed in Guatemala, where corrupt elites have ramped up attempts to curb high-level corruption investigations.
One of the most blatant recent moves against the CICIG came in late 2017 when President Jimmy Morales unsuccessfully tried to remove Velázquez, the body’s top official, from the country.
Since then, the Morales administration has taken other steps to undermine anti-corruption efforts, including firing the head of Guatemala’s tax agency, Juan Francisco Solórzano Foppa, who led high-profile corruption investigations targeting members of Guatemala’s top brass. And in March, Interior Minister Degenhart ousted national police director Nery Ramos y Ramos along with several of his top advisors in a move that was widely condemned as an attempt to interfere with ongoing graft investigations.