Is Guatemalan Democracy under Threat?

TRT World / Youtube

Inter-American Dialogue Board Member Eduardo Stein and Senior Fellow Kevin Casas-Zamora recently participated in an interview with TRT World on corruption in Guatemala. In the interview, Stein discussed how the perception of Guatemala’s president Jimmy Morales has changed and the role that the United Nations and the International Commission against Impunity have played thus far in the corruption investigation. Casas highlighted the similarities and differences between the present investigation of President Morales and the corruption scandal which led to the ousting of Guatemala’s former president, Otto Pérez Molina, in 2015. Casas also spoke about the importance of social pressure in sustaining the country’s agenda of transparency at the institutional level.

Comments by Kevin Casas-Zamora:

“Transparency was at the core of the political platform President Morales ran on when he was elected a couple of years ago, so this, at the very least, comes as a huge disappointment. This shows how the political and social pressure that led to the ousting of the previous president, Otto Pérez Molina, needs a set of political leaders and political institutions that are solid enough to carry this agenda of transparency forward.”

“The trump card in all of this is social pressure, and I think there’s a lot of it in Guatemala. I don’t think the social pressure that led to the ousting of previous president Otto Pérez Molina has simply vanished – it’s still there. It is this social demand that sustains whatever the International Commission against Impunity is doing in Guatemala, and I think they have a lot of support.”

“It is very difficult to find someone who has the moral high ground when it comes to campaign finance in Guatemala, or anywhere else in Latin America. That’s an issue that, when probed by investigators, tends to generate very strong pushback from the political elite. It’s very likely that this is the sort of issue that favors collective action by the political class against any kind of accountability.”

“In this case, we may be looking into something broader that may implicate many more political actors, and as such, might make the impeachment of President Morales less likely.”

Comments by Eduardo Stein:

“Many people in the streets considered President Morales a rather serious person, although he was a comedian by trade, but that opinion has changed dramatically in the last two years. Now there are lots of doubts surrounding the president.”

“As the person who negotiated with the U.N. General Secretary and signed the agreement between the Guatemalan government and the U.N., I was convinced that we needed an outside mechanism and that the U.N. could provide that in order to strengthen our own justice system, and more specifically, the pro-secretarial organism within our justice system. It is that mechanism provided by the U.N. that the president has tried to set back, asking for the dismissal of its head. The reaction of the population was automatic. He is trying to kick out the very person investigating him.”

“Part of what triggered the request of the U.N. to bring the International Commission against Impunity to Guatemala was precisely the weakness of the institutions, and the failure of the three powers of the state to check on each other. We didn’t have and we still don’t have a good checks-and-balances system. Now, the issue is in the hands of Congress and we very much doubt that it’s going to be an easy thing to solve because there are several other parties that are being investigated for the very same reasons -- illegal money during the campaign.”

“All of the parties that participated in the 2015 general elections are being investigated at the request of the attorney general’s office. And we, as a population, are requesting that the electoral law be drastically reformed on account of those findings.”

Watch the full interview here

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