The Honorable Rex Tillerson
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
2201 C Street NW
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Secretary Tillerson,
Last week at a press conference you reaffirmed your support for the UN-sponsored International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), and it is because of this support that we are writing to share our deep concern regarding efforts by Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales to sabotage this highly successful anti-corruption initiative. We believe President Morales may use his visit to Washington, D.C., this week to promote his campaign to oust the current CICIG Commissioner, Iván Velásquez, a distinguished Colombian jurist who is largely responsible for the commission’s success.
CICIG is one of the most effective anti-corruption mechanisms operating in Latin America today. Since Mr. Velásquez became CICIG commissioner in 2013, Guatemala has made unprecedented progress in exposing and prosecuting corruption by senior officials in the Guatemalan government.
Despite — or rather because of — this success, President Morales and his allies have repeatedly sought to derail the commission’s work. In August, Mr. Morales ordered the expulsion of Commissioner Velásquez from the country two days after CICIG and Guatemala’s chief prosecutor sought to lift the president’s immunity so they could investigate his alleged role in illicit campaign financing. In September, the Guatemalan Congress passed legislation that would allow the president and many members of congress to avoid prison sentences if they are convicted of crimes for which they are being investigated. Both efforts were blocked by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court. But members of the Guatemalan Congress and other prominent political figures have continued the attacks on Commissioner Velásquez, with a barrage of entirely unfounded allegations aimed at undermining the credibility of the commission.
The United States has actively supported CICIG for more than a decade. This support has been fully bipartisan, both in Congress and the White House, where the commission’s work has been backed by the Bush, Obama and now Trump administrations. In June, Vice President Mike Pence stressed the importance of CICIG during a meeting with President Morales. In August, Ambassador Nikki Haley issued a statement praising Commissioner Velázquez: “As head of [CICIG], Mr. Velásquez is a critical voice calling out corruption and upholding the rule of law. He has the full support of the United States and the international community.”
This favorable view of Commissioner Velásquez’s work is shared by an overwhelming majority of Guatemalans. Yet President Morales and his allies continue plotting against him. Some have argued that removing Mr. Velásquez might be necessary to avoid a political crisis in Guatemala and thus ensure CICIG’s survival.
This argument is deeply misguided. Removing Mr. Velásquez would doom CICIG and reverse the progress Guatemala has made in fighting corruption. It is unrealistic to hope that a new commissioner would be able to acquire the expertise needed to conclude the critical prosecutions currently underway before CICIG’s mandate expires in 2019. Moreover, it is extremely unlikely that any jurist with the experience, stature and integrity needed to lead CICIG would agree to take the position knowing that doing their job well would virtually guarantee that they lose it.
We therefore believe it is critically important that the US government continue to reaffirm its unwavering support, not only for CICIG and but also for its commissioner, and that it oppose any efforts to end Mr. Velásquez’s tenure prematurely.
José Miguel Vivanco
Executive Director, Americas division
Human Rights Watch
Managing Director, Americas division
Human Rights Watch