Page 24

SOUTH AMERICA

Guatemala: Transformation Against the Odds? by Alina Rocha Menocal Corruption in Guatemala is deeply entrenched. Historically, the dominant elites have viewed the state as a source of personal enrichment and advancement. From the 1950s onwards, during the country’s longstanding military rule, the alliance and collusion of the army with the dominant classes assured the concentration of power within very few hands. This facilitated the creation of exclusive networks of access and privilege to key resources, including land and labour, and generated a widespread culture of impunity. Over time, corruption became the means to guarantee the recreation of a system built on clientelism and patronage, and to preserve the privileged position of the elites. The highly exclusionary nature of the Guatemalan socioeconomic and political system also helped to give rise to more than 30 years of bloody internal conflict. In the 1980s, Guatemala embarked on a remarkably participatory and inclusive process to find a negotiated settlement to the armed insurgency. The ensuing Peace Accords, which were signed in 1996, are exemplary in terms of their ambition, scope, and vision to transform Guatemala into a more democratic, egalitarian, and representative country. Yet, two decades on, the agreements seem to have left underlying power structures largely untouched. With the transition from violent conflict to peace and from military rule to democracy in the 1990s, the army in particular preserved much of its power by transitioning into organised crime and infiltrating electoral politics. These clandestine security structures that originated during the war and have since morphed into criminal mafias – “hidden powers”, as they have come to be known – operate in parallel to Guatemala’s formal institutional framework, and they have amassed enormous access and influence through their connections within and outside the state. As José Rubén Zamora, a prominent Guatemalan journalist, has put it, democracy in Guatemala has been little more than a kleptocracy, “cogovern[ed] with criminal mafias, … capos…, state contractors and providers and some traditional private sector interests”. This makes what happened in Guatemala on 3 September 2015 nothing short of extraordinary: President Otto Pérez Molina resigned in the midst of far-reaching accusations of corruption and demands for accountability, and has been indicted on charges of customs fraud, racketeering and bribery. This turn of events would have seemed utterly unimaginable given who Pérez Molina is: as a high ranking army general during the country’s military regime, who ran its murky intelligence apparatus in the 1990s, he is the very embodiment of Guatemala’s entrenched political

establishment and privileged elites, and he was supposed to be untouchable. So what made Pérez Molina’s downfall possible, and what does it mean for prospects of more substantive transformation in Guatemala? Two factors in particular played a central role in this story of “transformation against long odds”: a mass protest movement against corruption and an ongoing, longer-term investigative and prosecution body backed by the United Nations on organised crime and its links to elected politicians and the state. In effect, this experience in Guatemala is a fascinating example of how an internationally supported anti-corruption initiative has been able to harness internal pressures for reform and open up spaces for change that, given Guatemala’s underlying power structure and dynamics, would have proven very difficult to create otherwise . It was an investigation by this special commission, the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), into a multimillion-dollar customs scam implicating powerful figures at the highest levels of government that unleashed weeks and months of unprecedented social mobilisation from April 2015 to hold the government to account. Outrage at evidence, including wiretaps, placing President Pérez Molina at the head of a parallel criminal structure that consisted of other high ranking politicians, former military officers, prominent businessmen and customs agents, brought together an unusual constellation of actors from across the country into the streets of Guatemala City to demand an end to impunity. Students, teachers, young professionals, union workers, peasants, middle class and indigenous peoples, all together in scenes that the country had rarely witnessed before. Eventually both the Catholic Church and the powerful Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Agriculture, and Finance (Comité Coordinador de Asociaciones Agrícolas, Comerciales, Industriales y Financieras -- CACIF) also took the side of the protesters to demand change. Established in 2007, the CICIG was the product of a complex and drawn-out process of negotiation between the Government of Guatemala, the Procuraduría General de Derechos Humanos, civil society organisations, and the United Nations, with crucial political and economic support from the international community. Through the Commission, Guatemala effectively outsourced part of its corrupt judicial system to an internationally sponsored body

Dialogue by KCL Politics Society ————————————————————- Page 21 of 46

Dialogue - Issue13  
Dialogue - Issue13  

by KCL Politics Society

Advertisement