Thousands of demonstrators calling for the resignation of Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales filled the streets of the national capital today. These pre-independence day demands, appropriately enough, are in response to Morales’s attempts to remove a UN body, CICIG (meant to assist Guatemalan prosecutors rooting out corruption), from the country.
Guatemalans, like so many Central American citizens, have an unfortunate and painful collective memory of systematic abuse, exploitation, violence and neglect by their government. Morales, the former comedian, was initially seen as a much-needed tonic for the toxic climate of the capital. With his most recent moves against CICIG, his constituents have soured on him.
Facing condemnation from his people, the UN and other international bodies, Morales has so far been able to cling to power thanks to an unusually quiet Washington.
“Morales began his four-year term in January 2016. The constitution prohibits presidential reelection, so he cannot be on the ballot in next year’s elections.
The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala played a crucial role in bringing down the Perez Molina administration. The United Nations-backed commission has been working alongside Guatemalan prosecutors since 2007, successfully building cases against high-level officials, judges and corporate executives.
Morales was initially supportive of the anti-corruption body, vowing to renew its two-year mandate so that it could continue throughout his presidency and beyond.
The relationship quickly began to sour, however, as Morales, his relatives and his political party all became subjects of investigations into corruption, including illegal campaign financing.
Last year, Morales declared the panel’s head commissioner, Ivan Velasquez, a former judge from Colombia, persona non grata. A ruling by the Constitutional Court, which has the last word on all constitutional matters, reversed the move.
This year, Morales extended his offensive against the anti-corruption panel. On Aug. 31, he announced the non-renewal of the commission’s current mandate, which ends in September 2019, four months before Morales’ term is up. Four days later, the government announced that Velasquez, the head commissioner, was a security threat and would not be permitted back into the country.
Banning Velasquez violates the 2017 court ruling in support of the commissioner, according to Jordan Rodas, the country’s human rights ombudsman, who is challenging Morales’ moves in court. The ombudsman’s action is one of several legal petitions aimed at ensuring the continued presence of both the commission and its chief. A ruling is expected any day.
For the past two weeks, Morales has been insinuating he will disregard an unfavorable ruling from the high court — a move that could exacerbate the constitutional crisis.“