Issue in Focus
As Americans, we love our liberty. We love the fact that no one from outside our country can tell us what to do or how to do it. Unfortunately, other countries are not as lucky.
Guatemala, for example, has recently come under assault from international entities seeking to co-opt the Guatemalan criminal justice system.
It all started with the best of intentions. The United Nations (U.N.) and the Government of Guatemala entered into an agreement for the creation of an International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG as it is known by its Spanish acronym). Ratified by the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala on August 1, 2007, CICIG was created as an independent international body whose purpose was to support the public ministry, the national police, civil, and other state institutions both in the investigation of crimes committed by members of illegal security forces and clandestine security apparatuses. All activities were intended to strengthen Guatemala’s criminal justice system.
After more than ten years of operation, however, CICIG has gone far beyond this mandate. CICIG repeatedly prosecutes individuals for political ends, bringing inflated sentences for the most minor crimes. Their methodology is shaky, at times lacking proper documentation or evidence to bring forth cases. The group has become known for politicizing the justice system in Guatemala, not fixing it. And this has become such a problem that U.S. Ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, beseeched CICIG to not “be in the paper every day” on her visit earlier this year.
Consider the Bitkov family who fled persecution in Russia and became the unfortunate victims of a criminal group in Guatemala that was selling false identity documents. What once began as a domestic case involving Guatemalan officials allegedly assisting in the forgery of passports and immigration documents was hijacked by the CICIG who tried the family alongside the criminals who sold them the documents and were convicted by CICIG judges.
Suspecting Russian influence on the CICIG, the United States government brought the case before the Helsinki Commission - the U.S. Government contingent of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) - who held a hearing on the matter on April 27.
The people of Guatemala have a fragile democracy. But it is one that they themselves deserve to facilitate – not U.N. outsiders. We should be supporting President Morales at a critical time when the leaders of Venezuela and Cuba seek to destabilize the region and his nation. The U.S. can help in its stabilization, but not by giving $44.5 million in State Department funding to support the corrupt CICIG.
We ought to work to support the actual Guatemalan systems of governance and prioritize cooperation on issues of trade, migration, and trafficking.
This is why I joined my colleagues in signing a letter to the chairmen of the Appropriations and Foreign Relations Committees on May 4, asking that they call on the State Department to withhold the $6 million of FY17 funds bound for CICIG.
As of now, I am grateful the request has been placed and funds withheld. The United States should be encouraging sovereignty for its neighbors, not undermining it by finding international shadow governments. The people of each nation have the ability to govern and know what is best for them.