Guatemala: A Blow to Hopes for Justice

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Guatemalans dreaming of and campaigning for a nation governed by the rule of law were devastated June 7th when the head of a UN-supported body set up to investigate organized crime resigned in frustration. Carlos Castresana had labored valiantly, as head of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), to investigate the organized crime that has penetrated the nation.

The Washington Office on Latin America commented that, “The CICIG’s courageous work has led to the successful investigation of high-profile cases, the arrest of dozens of government officials and ex-military officers, and the purge of thousands of police officers linked to illegal groups. Despite the CICIG’s progress, the Guatemalan authorities have been slow to respond…. The legislature has not approved the anti-impunity legal reforms suggested by the Commission and the judiciary has yet to implement the high-security tribunals to try sensitive organized crime cases. Furthermore, Castresana has accused the new Attorney General of undermining the Commission’s investigations.”

In reaction to Castresana’s resignation, Guatemala’s Constitutional Court dismissed the new attorney general. With no time to spare, last week LAWG and its partner organizations issued a letter to the UN Secretary General urging him to appoint a successor to Mr. Castresana with the strong commitment and skills needed to investigate organized crime. Our message: the international community must act now to support Guatemalans working for justice.

Congressman Eliot Engel, Chairman of the House Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere, shared our sentiments, urging “U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki Moon to swiftly appoint a new CICIG Commissioner.” He commented, “The CICIG cannot afford to lose momentum. A new Commissioner must have the prosecutorial and investigative expertise that Castresana possesses, so that CICIG’s cases–including the case against former Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo–can quickly move forward.”

The Myrna Mack Foundation, which campaigns tirelessly for justice in Guatemala, starkly noted that “the resignation of Dr. Carlos Castresana… reveals the lack of political will on the part of government institutions and shows the vast range of criminal networks within the government itself… which exercise pressure against those who seek to strengthen the nation’s justice system….”  

But the Mack Foundation reiterated its commitment to the fight for justice despite all odds. “We move from outrage and frustration to a reaffirmation of the fight against impunity.”

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