Guatemala’s ascent from decades of civic and economic despair has been a sort of Cinderella story in Central America — no one expected it. But developments this week show that Jimmy Morales is backpedaling at a breakneck speed.
“Four days after Morales announced he would allow the mandate of the UN-backed Commission against Corruption and Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to expire in 2019, a letter leaked Tuesday that detailed the president’s orders to bar Iván Velásquez, CICIG’s Colombian commissioner, from re-entering the country. (He is currently traveling in the U.S.) CICIG was critical to putting former President Otto Pérez Molina behind bars, and its investigations into Morales’ campaign financing have threatened the current president with a similar fate. In a statement, the government said the UN hadn’t cooperated with Morales’ requests to name a new commissioner, and had little choice but to expel Velásquez, who it called “a person who attacks order and public security.”
Morales tried to expel Velásquez last year, but Guatemala’s Constitutional Court overruled him on grounds that the Guatemalan Constitution prohibits that kind of unilateral decision. Furthermore, the court said, making him a persona non grata violated Guatemala’s founding agreement with CICIG, and Article 149 of the constitution requires the government to uphold international treaties.
That’s why Morales’ move Tuesday was “completely unconstitutional,” according to Carlos Arturo Villagrán, an expert on Guatemalan constitutional law and Ph.D. candidate at Melbourne Law School in Australia.
Villagrán told AQ that Morales’ action could land him in contempt of the court, leading to a new impeachment process.
But Congress may have other plans. On Tuesday, Morales’ allies in the legislature gave first approval to a set of reforms that would change the procedure for removing the immunity of – and ultimately impeaching – the country’s highest authorities, including the president and members of the Constitutional Court.
If passed, the law would eliminate a preliminary step that allows Guatemala’s Supreme Court (which is different from the Constitutional Court, which rules on constitutional issues) to throw out potential impeachment cases before Congress takes them up, acting as a check on accusations it considers political in nature.“