Over the past six months, attempts by the Guatemalan state to remove the UN mandated Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) have continued. The Commissioner of CICIG remains outside of the country and is leading the investigative team by Skype. The Constitutional Court has routinely rejected attempts to revoke or deny visas to CICIG staff, stating it is unconstitutional.
President Jimmy Morales and his government have continually refused to respect the decisions of the Constitutional Court, amounting to a technical or soft coup d’etat, consolidating power to the president by ignoring checks and balances within different government entities.
On January 5th, the situation came to a head when one of CICIG’s investigators Yilen Osorio Zuluaga, a Colombian national returning from Christmas vacations, attempted to enter Guatemala. He was detained at the airport, which was subsequently shut down, affecting approximately 900 passengers.
On January 6th, over 50 Guatemalan human rights organizations denounced this latest attempt to disrupt the work of the CICIG, stating this is a return to tactics used during the Internal Armed Conflict. Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Nobel Prize winner, stated the state’s actions last night amount to the kidnapping of a state official. The San Carlos University student’s union and other organizations called for the public to take to the streets to denounce the president’s refusal to abide by the Constitutional Court’s orders.
After being held in detention for 25 hours, Osorio was finally released from illegal detention at the Guatemalan airport on an order from the Guatemalan Public Prosecutor. Indigenous leaders, civil society and human rights groups had gathered outside for hours to demand his release and in support of CICIG.
On January 7th, the Minister of the Interior, Sandra Jovel announced that the agreement with the United Nations for the creation of the CICIG would end in 24 hours. Following this, the Guatemalan government gave a press conference with propaganda against the CICIG.
On January 8th, the CICIG announced that its international personnel would leave Guatemala as part of a security contingency plan, following President Morales’ announcement.
On January 9th, after eight hours of deliberation, the Constitutional Court voted to suspend President Morales’ decision. Meanwhile, the CICIG confirmed that it will continue with its work in the country until its mandate ends.
That same day, the Supreme Court of Guatemala accepted a motion to strip Constitutional Court judges of immunity presented by a right-wing interest group against for a decision relating to the Guatemalan government’s attempt to expluse the Swedish Ambasssador in early 2018. The three judges are accused of violating the constitution and abuse of power, among other crimes. If appeals and presented by the Human Rights Ombudsperson and others are not accepted (there will be lots of back and forth on this), the case will be sent to Congress, who will decide if the three judges will lose immunity and could be investigated for these supposed crimes. This is an attempt to rid the Constitutional Court of three key judges, who have made a number of important decisions as of late to check the power of Jimmy Morales and the executive branch of government. The Guatemalan Supreme Court is allied with the current government, and by weakening the Constitutional Court, there will be even more control over the judicial system by ensuring allies of Jimmy Morales and the government are in those powerful positions.
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