Only 3 percent of crimes in Guatemala are punished, according to the head of an international anti-corruption body, a statistic that serves as a reminder of the importance of enacting structural reforms in order to improve rule of law in the country.
During an April 3 meeting with the press, the head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (Comisión Internacional contra la Impunidad en Guatemala – CICIG), Iván Velásquez, said that over 97 percent of crimes in the country remain unpunished, reported Prensa Libre.
Velásquez attributed the widespread impunity to the existence of deep-seated illegal networks seeking to co-opt public institutions.
"This wounded giant, this criminal super-structure, is difficult to eradicate," Velásquez said. "It is something deeply embedded, a strategy designed to keep state institutions working for the benefit of a selected few."
The head of CICIG stressed the need for the commission to support the country's Attorney General Office in the fight against crime. But Guatemala's judiciary system is poorly funded, and the Attorney General's Office only has a presence in 34 of the country's 340 municipalities, Velásquez said.
"Everything [in Guatemala] has been designed so that justice could not work," he remarked.
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The exorbitant impunity levels described by the head of CICIG show that despite the numerous high-profile cases brought by the Attorney General's Office with the internationally-backed commission's help, major shortcomings remain in Guatemala's judiciary system at large.
Established in 2007 as a United Nations-backed appendage of the Attorney General's Office, CICIG has proved pivotal in uncovering and prosecuting powerful networks of corrupt elites in the country. The most prominent example of this came in 2015, when the Attorney General's Office and CICIG exposed an expansive corruption network involving, among others, then-President Otto Pérez Molina and Vice President Roxana Baldetti, both of whom are now in jail.
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The achievements of CICIG sparked calls for the creation of similar mechanisms in other countries in Central America struggling with high-level graft, particularly El Salvador and Honduras. However, the fact that nearly all crimes in Guatemala go unpunished is a stark reminder of how much work remains to be done.
Velásquez himself has said as much in the past.
"For Guatemala to reach impunity levels on a par with rest of the Americas, we would have to wait 10 years; 20 years to achieve levels of Asia and the rest of the world, and 50 years to get to European levels," he said in a November 2015 press conference, while calling for greater investments in the judicial system to help tackle criminality in the country.