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November 16, 2018
Policy Briefs /
Posted by NCID

The CICIG and the MACCIH were created through agreements with international organizations to strengthen the fight against impunity in corruption and violence cases. Their work, which has given results, has received supporters and detractors, and El Salvador echoes the debate

Corruption and violence are two burdens for the development of the Central American North Triangle. Impunity is fed back together with violence, drug trafficking, and institutional weakness, and that snake that bites its tail has led this area to be one of the most violent and corrupt in the world.

For example, in the 2017 Corruption Perceptions Index, which Transparency International measures over 180 countries, Guatemala ranks 143, Honduras 135 and El Salvador 112; in the Global Peace Index of 2018, from the Institute for Economics and Peace, among 163 countries, Guatemala ranks 111, El Salvador 116 and Honduras 118, and in both cases, these are trends in which there has been little variation in the last decade. Also, according to data from the World Bank, the homicide rate shows ups and downs in the three countries in the last twenty years, and in 2016 it was, for every 100,000 inhabitants, 27 murders in Guatemala, 56 in Honduras and 83 in El Salvador.

On the other hand, in the Global Competitiveness Index 2017-2018, of the World Economic Forum, it coincides that three of the factors that most hinder business and investment in these countries are “crime and theft”, corruption, and an “inefficient government bureaucracy”.

Facing this sustained panorama, citizen pressure led Guatemala and Honduras to seek help abroad to strengthen their judicial systems and begin to provide an institutional solution to impunity in corruption and organized crime. Thus, in 2006, through an agreement with the United Nations, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) was created (and approved by the Guatemalan Congress in 2007). And in 2016, with the model of the neighboring country, the Support Mission against Corruption and Impunity in Honduras (MACCIH) was created through an agreement with the Organization of American States (OAS).

In a decade and two years, respectively, the CICIG and the MACCIH have received the applause of the sectors that had demanded them and of others at first skeptical, but both have also received the rejection of those who have seen them as examples of foreign interventionism to mold the country according to political and economic interests, being the US behind the money. And just as Honduras looked askance at the CICIG before the possibility of adopting (and adapting) a model to face similar problems, El Salvador continues to do the same with the two neighboring countries to see the achievements, failures, and controversies that have occurred.

Pioneers by need

The armed conflict that took place in Guatemala between 1960 and 1996 blurred the borders between criminal networks and networks of corruption. The transition to democracy, moreover, was made in such a way that already fragile institutions lost legitimacy, of which they have taken advantage of themselves and others to corrupt them in favor of their interests, damaging the socioeconomic development of the country.

Some of the loose ends of this process were paramilitary and para-police groups that the State sought to dismantle through the Commission of Investigation of Illegal Bodies and Clandestine Security Apparatus (CICIACS), created in 2004 with the UN and closed by oppositions of part of the Congress and after a review of the Constitutional Court. The Government modified the text and, after new dialogues with the Department of Political Affairs of the United Nations, on December 12, 2006, the agreement that created the more robust CICIG was signed and approved by Congress in August 2007.

Since then, apart from the support to the Public Ministry and the National Civil Police, the CICIG has published detailed reports, such as the financing of the policy in Guatemala, and has developed its three main projects: a Judicial Observatory, with the help of experts; the development of an integrated Justice, to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the system, and the promotion of a culture of legality in educational centers. Likewise, the idea is that, in accordance with its objectives, CICIG will transfer its capabilities to the corresponding Guatemalan institutions. One example is the Special Prosecutor's Office against Impunity (FECI), which CICIG created together with the Public Prosecutor's Office.

Meanwhile, the Commission has been involved since 2009 in at least 84 high-level judicial investigations, related to illegal or clandestine groups that have penetrated the institutions (according to an InSight Crime report) and (increasingly) corrupt practices where there were actors from the public and private sectors. Most of these cases have been uncovered since the arrival of the commissioner Iván Velásquez on August 31, 2013, since when CICIG gained more weight in the public opinion for more frequently touching the highest spheres of power.

Among the most relevant cases related to corruption are: the extradition in 2011 to the US of former President Alfonso Portillo (who has already served his sentence) for having diverted funds from the Ministry of Defense; the disclosure in 2015 of the customs fraud network known as “La Línea” (The Line), which led to the resignation (and imprisonment) of former president Otto Pérez Molina and his vice president Roxana Baldetti; bribery investigations in the case of the Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which has shaken almost all of Latin America, and the request in 2017 for the pretrial request against the current President Jimmy Morales for alleged illegal financing of his campaign in 2015.

The President, like other politicians and sectors, has accused the CICIG of having a political and ideological agenda and exceeding its functions, which together with the work of the Commission itself has led people to support a part or the other.

Initially, the mandate of the CICIG was for two years, but there have been five extensions, the most recent until September 3, 2019, requested by Jimmy Morales himself, who at the end of August of this year announced that he would not renew the mandate of the Commission. A few days later, Morales declared Iván Velásquez persona non grata, and the Commissioner, who traveled to the US for work, haven’t been able to re-enter Guatemala, to which the UN responded by requesting him to continue leading the Commission from outside the country.

But, beyond the specific positions, this division in the population due to the dispute between the Government and the CICIG ultimately harms the objectives of the fight against impunity and the institutional system that is being articulated and consolidated to combat it, and it favors the networks and actors that take advantage of that instability.

The "marches of the torches"

Since the CICIG gave results, in Honduras they began to comment on their performance and the possibility of seeking a similar option, which had supporters and detractors. But when in May 2015 a scandal of embezzlement at the Honduran Institute of Social Security (IHSS), a sector that is also in crisis, was revealed, the balance began to tilt in favor of the supporters of an international commission.

The dissatisfaction of a part of the population took the street to the so-called "indignados" (outraged), more and more numerous, to star in the so-called "marches of the torches" for several months throughout the country, demanding a CICIH. The pressure, including hunger strikes, led President Juan Orlando Hernández to propose the creation of the Honduran Comprehensive System to Combat Impunity and Corruption (SIHCIC), an internal body that supports the Public Prosecutor's Office and judicial institutions. The proposal didn’t satisfy the protesters, who demanded an international presence: the Honduran government didn’t go to the UN but to the OAS and, after a process of socialization with different sectors and institutions of the country, on January 19, 2016, the MACCIH was created.

In addition to having emerged through agreements with different international organizations, CICIG and MACCIH differ in that social pressure in Honduras was more decisive for its creation; the first can exercise criminal prosecution, while the second is limited to investigating, and the proposals of the MACCIH to the Honduran Government for reforms in the judicial system are technically obligatory, while those of the CICIG are recommendations.

However, in the framework of support to judicial bodies in each country, both agencies have had meetings to share experiences agree on objectives such as the search for coordination between national institutions responsible for combating corruption and the promotion of observation and monitoring of justice, although they also share the criticisms received for having announced the beginning of investigations against certain individuals, provoking mediatic judgments parallel to the official ones.

With regard to the MACCIH, it works on four fronts: prevention and combating corruption, where it supports research, adapts work in accordance with the Inter-American Convention Against Corruption and proposes changes; criminal justice reform, which includes the observatory; political-electoral reform, where it seeks to establish norms for the financing of the campaigns, and public security, helping to professionalize the Police and to implement protection mechanisms for human rights defenders, journalists, and Justice officials.

With less than three years, the Mission has already given to talk about, especially for the agility in its research processes, also considering the expectations that had with the background of the CICIG, which for 2016 had been operating for almost a decade. The most relevant projects and cases in which it has participated are: the Clean Policy Law, which obliges candidates to report the origin of monies from their campaigns, to which it puts maximums; the creation of the Fiscal Unit against the Impunity of Corruption (UFECIC) within the Public Ministry, as well as the Observatory of the Criminal Justice System, and investigations into corruption cases such as the so-called “Red de Diputados” (Network of Deputies), which involves several legislators and NGOs, Odebrecht, the investigations that led to the capture of former first lady Rosa Elena Bonilla, the relationship between politicians and drug trafficking groups, and that of the Honduran Social Security Institute.

However, according to the report Advances and Challenges: Report on the first two years of the MACCIH, of the Center for American and Latino Studies of the American University, the Honduran agency has been more limited than the CICIG: its financing, for example, was given on the fly, there was no control over the hiring of personnel and it depended a lot on the Public Ministry. In addition, the case of the IHSS, according to research by the MACCIH, would involve the government party and President Hernández, re-elected in 2017, with which there are sectors skeptical of the Mission itself, which has already been tied by detractors and originals supporters.

The Salvadoran (and regional) expectation

The countries of the Central American Northern Triangle not only share markets and culture, but also problems, and with two of the three parties applying an alternative such as the international commissions to fight impunity, El Salvador has an eye on its neighbors and another on the performance of its own institutions.

In this sense, there are those who defend the strengthening of the Attorney General's Office and the judicial system to combat the evils from within, and that there is no need to create commissions that can go from institutional support to pretending to mark the country's path. On the other hand, there are sectors that see El Salvador as incapable of dealing with corruption, violence, and impunity in an effective manner, as they are structural problems that also involve the institutions themselves.

In fact, what led to the creation of the CICIG and the MACCIH was the institutional inability of Guatemala and Honduras to combat violence, corruption and the relationship between both, and the resulting impunity that in turn gives them more life, slowing down the development of the country.

In El Salvador they know it, and, in their own way, the Government has already gone abroad: on January 25, 2016, with the clarification of Mónica Mendoza, representative of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), that it was not another CICIG, El Salvador announced an agreement with the UNODC financed by the US to fight corruption in the country, working with existing institutions and with fewer faculties (and results) than the neighboring agencies.

More timid than what was adopted by the two other countries, but with a similar background in intentions, this agreement confirms that, despite the different competencies, the interests of third parties and the role in the political scene, these new bodies in the Central American Northern Triangle are more structural measures to solve not only historical problems but to change deeply rooted realities inherent in its own system.