Opinion – Latinoamérica21: Organized crime, extractivism and lack of rule of law in Guatemala

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Opinion – Latinoamérica21: Organized crime, extractivism and lack of rule of law in Guatemala

Guatemala is a country in which the weak state was captured decades ago by an alliance between business and organized crime, on the one hand, and the political class, formed by both deputies and members of the Executive, on the other, in a clear interconnection. . This scenario was exacerbated during the pandemic when states of siege were enacted in areas occupied by mining companies to persecute community leaders and in areas of social conflict.

In this sense, several situations can be cited regarding the persecution by the government of President Alejandro Giammattei of actors of the judiciary power whose mission is to work related to acts of corruption or the protection of human rights violations, as well as the consolidation of impunity with which the government covers up the environmental abuses of which transnational mining companies in collusion with the national elite are the beneficiaries.

In the first sphere, the dismantling of Judiciary officials who maintained an independent attitude has been a dominant note in recent times. Thus, Juan Francisco Sandoval Alfaro, ex-prosecutor of the Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity, who was already being persecuted by the state apparatus since the government of the previous president, Jimmy Morales, when he discovered the Carpet case – which Russian mining businessmen took to the house presidential palace, containing bundles of thousands of dollars inside – triggered the detonator for his departure into exile, first to El Salvador and then to the United States.

In the same direction, on March 9, magistrate Erika Afián followed the same route as Sandoval Alfaro, joining a list of fifteen justice operators who recently left the country. Erika abandoned a nearly twenty-year legal career in which she had dealt with corruption, money laundering and drug trafficking cases involving dozens of her country’s most powerful businessmen, politicians and criminal bosses, all the way to President Giammattei himself.

Similarly, so far, against this grim backdrop and in a similar direction, the Supreme Court of Justice suspended, on March 22, anti-corruption judge Pablo Xitumul, known for his fight against corruption and his handling of cases involving high-ranking Armed forces.

In the second scope, in October 2021, police and army forces entered some communities in El Estor, a village near the Caribbean coast, using the State of Siege Decree established for the municipality in the context of the pandemic as a legal shield.

Then, a family of community activists in defense of the environment, persecuted by the state and the mining company, was detained by police forces who seized computers and material stored on a Catholic/community radio.

Like many others, these were people who were highly exposed and without any kind of support or protection in their fight against the Swiss-Russian company Solway, which owns an open pit nickel mine. Santa Catarina Ixtahuacán-Nahualá, in the west of the country, is also a troubled area that is overrun by organized crime.

This scenario, which definitely had its most recent developments when former attorney general Thelma Aldana was blocked in her presidential race with the Seed Movement and had to go into exile in the United States in 2019, is, on the other hand, consistent with the country’s performance on other indicators. Thus, the Bertelsmann Foundation’s Transformation Index for 2022 places Guatemala as the fourth worst performer in the region, surpassing only Nicaragua, Cuba and Venezuela, something already indicated by The Economist Intelligence Unit’s index for 2021.

Both measures confirm the above scenario, which is also consistent with the country’s rank 150 out of 180 on Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index. The report underlines that the rarely cited case of Guatemala, whose level of inflows from its migrants’ remittances ranks it second in all of Latin America, behind Mexico (US$11 billion), places the country at the bottom of performance. Latin American politician. Its character as a semi-failed state is combined with a high deterioration of its democratic institutionality, which leads it to the edge of authoritarianism.

António Guterres, the UN Secretary General, on March 24, in response to the persecution that prosecutors and judges face by the State, expressed his concern about this situation, noting the important contribution that Guatemalan judicial officials have made in the fight against impunity and corruption. A task that for years was supported by the work of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) and shamefully dismantled in September 2019.

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