Sep 18, 2018

Guatemala on the brink (Sept. 18, 2018)

Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales defied an order from the country's highest court yesterday, refusing to allow the head of the U.N. anti-graft commission to return. The Constitutional Court reversed Morales' ban on the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) head Iván Velásquez on Sunday. (See yesterday's post.)

The government ratified the ban yesterday, leaving the ball in the court's court. The Morales administration argued their action is consistent with the Constitutional Court decision, which did not name Iván Velásquez, but rather said the commissioner must be allowed into Guatemala. It's not clear whether the ambiguity was accidental or with political intentionality. (El Periódico and Plaza Pública

Justice Gloria Porras told the Associated Press that the ruling indeed refers to Velásquez.

The Morales administration not only challenged the court, but also the U.N. Secretary General, who officials essentially blamed for the crisis. The government requested that António Guterres send a new commissioner -- whose nomination should be agreed upon with the Guatemalan government. Guterres ratified Velásquez's continuity in the post after Morales banned him earlier this month. In a press conference yesterday Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel said the government sent a letter to Guterres notifying him that for Guatemala Velásquez was no longer the CICIG commissioner, and the decision is non-negotiable. She gave the U.N. 48 hours to name a new commission and asked the the organization refrain from making statements to the press in a manner that could generate confusion. (La Hora)

The Public Ministry said it will obey the court's instructions on how to proceed. Attorney General Consuelo Porras said the court must decide whether its decision has been disobeyed. Sunday's decision noted that not following the ruling was grounds for removal from office. (El Periódico and Plaza Pública)

The decision pushes Guatemala's rule of law to the breaking point, argue activists and government critics. (New York Times and Al Jazeera.) Should Congress ratify Morales' stance against the court the rupture will only broaden. U.S. support for the CICIG, traditionally strong, has been weak this time around. But the commission enjoys widespread support among Guatemalans, many of whom took to the streets last week in its defense. 

The court decision also ordered the government to follow the commission's creating convention, which clearly puts the power to name the commissioner in the hands of the U.N. Secretary General, reports Nómada.

Several organizations of civil society immediately presented complaints in the Public Ministry against three government officials -- Jovel, Ministro de Gobernación Enrique Degenhart, and the procurador general Luis Donado --  accusing them of disobeying the Constitutional Court order.

At the heart of Morales' battle with the CICIG and Velásquez is probably the commission's accusation that he obtained illicit campaign financing in his 2015 presidential run and investigations into alleged corruption by members of his family. Morales, a political outsider, was propelled to office in 2015 by voter fury at the political establishment, after President Otto Pérez Molina resigned in the midst of a large graft scandal uncovered by the CICIG and the Public Ministry.

The last time Guatemala faced a constitutional crisis of this kind was in 1993, when then-president Jorge Serrano Elías attempted a self-coup, but defeated by popular outcry and army support for the Constitutional Court which ruled against Serrano's self-declaration of dictatorship.


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