GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala — On Aug. 1, 2007, the U.N. established the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) to wipe out corruption in Guatemala. On Sept. 3, 2015, the CICIG took down one of the largest scandals in government.
On that Thursday Otto Perez Molina, the country’s president, was arrested for masterminding a large-scale corruption scheme. In addition to Molina, 100 others within and outside of Guatemala’s government are also under investigation for their involvement in the scheme.
The arrest comes at the head of an investigation that was started six months ago by CICIG and Guatemala’s Public Ministry.
Through evidence collected from about 89,000 wire taps, nearly 6,000 e-mails and 17 raids, CICIG and local prosecutors uncovered the racketeering scheme now known as “La Linea,” or The Line. This name refers to a hotline that importers used to evade import duties in exchange for bribes from government officials.
La Linea is just one of six major scandals in the “ring of corruption” that CICIG exposed. In total, these six scandals led to the resignation of more than 48 high-level government officials, cost Guatemalan taxpayers more than $200 million and resulted in the deaths of 10 people due to medical malpractice.
But while the CICIG is largely responsible for uprooting this instance of corruption in Guatemala, as Strategic Communications Advisor in USAID’s Democracy, Rights and Governance Office Alana Marsili says, “It arguably would not have been as successful without over a decade of strategic reform in Guatemala’s judiciary.”
The reforms Marsili is referring to were implemented by USAID in response to Guatemala’s 36-year-long civil war, which formally ended in 1996.
The impacts of the armed conflict in Guatemala left the country’s future in dire shape. Weakened governmental institutions, democracy and rule of law in Guatemala led to historic peaks of violence and all kinds of trafficking from drugs to humans.
In support of the Government of Guatemala, USAID created comprehensive strategies to “reduce levels of violence in target communities facing high crime rates and strengthen the prosecution and adjudication of crime.”
In one strategy, USAID worked in coordination with Guatemala’s Attorney General’s Office to establish new types of courts. Some of these courts include the High Impact Court, which deals with extreme crimes and annuls impunity for high-level government officials, and the Pluripersonal Criminal Court, which deals with misdemeanors and low-level felonies thereby relieving the case burden of the First Instance Criminal Courts.
USAID also established 24-Hour Courts in order to ensure due process and allow prosecutors to obtain search warrants and wire taps for speedy investigations. One of these 24-Hour Courts is a specialized Violence against Women and Sexual Exploitation Court to give victims the legal resources they need when they need them.
In another strategy, USAID aimed to bring Guatemala’s financial management and procedures up to international standards by promoting effectiveness, accountability and good governance, especially in the security and justice sectors.USAID also supported methods to mend relationships in civil society. One such method curbs crime by steering vulnerable youth away from risky activities and into cultural programs, education and vocational training. USAID also worked with local police municipalities to promote community-based policing and public policy reform in order to restore trust between citizens and the police.
Over the years, USAID’s programs have had tangible success.
In the courts, the rate of cases dismissed for “lack of merit” has declined from 77 percent to less than 15 percent. With the addition of the Pluripersonal Criminal Court, justice system efficiency increased a massive 400 percent. Because of the new Violence against Women and Sexual Exploitation Court, USAID supported 18,451 gender-based violence survivors in 2013 alone.
In communities where USAID’s programs are implemented, crime such as illegal drug sales has declined as much as 50 percent. In the last five years, Guatemala has seen the overall homicide rate in the country decline as well.
Perez’s arrest not only signifies that reform efforts in Guatemala’s justice system are working but also symbolizes a turning point for the future of corruption in Guatemala. “This is a citizens’ revolution,” said lawyer Juan Carlos Carrera, “because Guatemala has been divided for many years with so much injustice.” Carrera was one of thousands of demonstrators who gathered in plazas across Guatemala City to celebrate the removal of their former president.