Diplomatic Spat Breaks Out Between Colombia & Guatemala Over Anti-Corruption Efforts
Guatemala’s crusade against the former members of the United Nations-backed anti-corruption organization known as CICIG has created diplomatic tension with Colombia after Guatemala began pursuing charges against members of the body, including Colombian Defense Minister Iván Velásquez.
Guatemala’s Special Prosecutor’s Office recently announced that they would take legal action against Velásquez due to alleged “illegal, arbitrary and abusive acts” during the “Lava Jato” investigation of bribery charges against Brazilian construction company Odebrecht, which happened while Velasquez was the head of CICIG between 2013 and 2019.
While no arrest warrants have been issued against Velásquez so far, Colombian President Gustavo Petro has railed against the Guatemalan government for the investigation and has defended Velásquez publicly against the accusations.
El Presidente @petrogustavo respalda al Ministro de Defensa @Ivan_Velazquez_, frente a recientes anuncios de la Fiscalía de Guatemala. pic.twitter.com/qzri59m4wB
— Presidencia Colombia 🇨🇴 (@infopresidencia) January 17, 2023
Tensions between the two countries have escalated to the point where Petro has announced that Colombia’s new ambassador to Guatemala is being recalled back to the country, and promised that the country will not be accepting any arrest warrants against Velásquez. Petro threatened to cut diplomatic ties with Guatemala.
Jamás aceptaré la orden de captura de nuestro ministro Velasquez. Demostró luchar contra la corrupción y no permitirimos que la corrupción lo persiga.
Nuestro embajador se llama inmediatamente a consulta.
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) January 17, 2023
“He will continue to be our minister. If Guatemala insists on imprisoning just men, well, we have nothing to do with Guatemala,” said Petro.
Guatemalan President Alejandro Eduardo Giammattei Falla responded in kind by withdrawing the country’s ambassador Reagan Vera from Colombia, while bringing up Petro’s own guerilla past. “I’m going to let President Petro continue to make the mistake of a guerrilla, but that is not very political. I will not fall for the game.”
The International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG, was a UN-backed independent body active between 2007 and 2019 that pursued judicial means of investigating and punishing corrupt officials in Guatemala.
After the country’s sudden withdrawal from the agreement in 2019, the administration of Giammattei has been accused of pursuing many of those who were involved in the anti-corruption body, with over 30 judges, prosecutors, and other judicial officials being forced into exile out of the fear of being persecuted.
Multiple organizations have made statements against the Giammattei administration’s recent pursuit of former CICIG officials, including Transparency International, whose chair Delia Ferreira Rubio called the pursuit a “devastating turn.”
The office of the United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres has also condemned the pursuit of former CICIG officials, saying that it is “dramatic, given Guatemala’s history, that those fighting for accountability for serious human rights violations are the ones being persecuted and prosecuted.”
“These prosecutions and the lack of due process guarantees undermine the rule of law throughout the country,” said Gutierres. “I call on the authorities to take appropriate measures to strengthen and guarantee the independence of the justice system and provide the necessary protection to justice officials”
Above photo: Colombia’s Ambassador Victoria González Ariza presents credentials to Guatemala’s President Alejandro Giammattei in January, 2023 (photo: Guatemalan foreign ministry).