The governments of Guatemala and Colombia called their respective ambassadors for consultation following a Guatemalan investigation that accuses Iván Velásquez, Colombian Defense Minister, of corruption while he was serving in the Central American country as director of the International Commission Against Impunity (Cicig). . Bogotá defended Velásquez and Guatemala City rejected that a judicial problem was elevated to “political”.
It is already a full-blown diplomatic clash. Both Colombia and Guatemala have called their ambassadors for consultation, a situation that in these spheres is usually considered the prelude to a break in relations between two countries.
At the center of the debate is the Colombian Defense Minister Iván Velásquez, a 67-year-old politician who had served in Guatemala as director of the International Commission Against Impunity (Cicig) between 2013 and 2017.
According to an investigation by the Public Ministry of the Central American country led by prosecutor Rafael Curruchiche, Velásquez committed “illegal and abusive” acts while leading the entity by approving abnormal cooperation agreements, according to him, with two Brazilian Odebrecht executives in 2017.
“The Special Prosecutor’s Office against Impunity will take legal action to hold the former Cicig commissioner Iván Velásquez accountable for his illegal and abusive acts,” said Curruchiche, who is also investigating Colombian lawyer Luz Camargo Garzón, who was investigating corruption structures. in Guatemala.
Petro defends Velásquez and Guatemala criticizes the “outburst”
The news, which was released on January 16, aroused an immediate reaction from the Colombian government. President Gustavo Petro closed his defense around the minister and assured that he would “never” accept “the arrest warrant” of the minister.
“We are not going to allow [Velásquez] be attacked for what you have done, be persecuted for your fight against impunity, be cornered by those who exercise that impunity,” Petro said upon his arrival in Zurich, Switzerland, where he is attending the Davos Forum.
“If Guatemala insists on arresting just men, we have nothing to do with Guatemala,” he concluded.
I will never accept the arrest warrant for our Minister Velasquez. He proved to fight against corruption and we will not allow corruption to persecute him.
Our ambassador is immediately called for consultation.
— Gustavo Petro (@petrogustavo) January 17, 2023
This Tuesday, January 17, the Guatemalan government issued a statement in which he rejected “the outburst of the Colombian Government towards the Guatemalan Justice” and regretted that Petro turned into a “political” issue what was simply “of a legal nature”, “making abrupt decisions without following the corresponding diplomatic steps”.
“Guatemala reiterates respect for democratic institutions, the rule of law and the separation of powers, and calls for the matter to be resolved through diplomatic channels and dialogue,” closed the Guatemalan Administration, led by President Alejandro Giammattei.
The fight against impunity for Velásquez is internationally recognized
The institution that Velásquez directed in Guatemala was precisely an organization dedicated to investigating corruption schemes and clandestine security groups that, under his mandate, dismantled various illegal structures that operated in Guatemalan public institutions.
In fact, Velászquez won the Right Livelihood Award, known as the “alternative Nobel”, in 2018 for his work against Cicig and against abuse of power and corruption in Guatemala.
His investigations brought down then-president Otto Pérez Molina in 2015, recently sentenced to 16 years in prison for the customs corruption case known as La Línea together with his vice president, precisely the case uncovered by the Colombian.
This fight against the Guatemalan political powers led Velásquez to jail and in 2018 he was expelled from the country by Pérez Molina’s successor, Jimmy Morales.
Morales was the president who, precisely, decided not to renew the Cicig mandate in 2019. This Commission had been created in 2017 as a result of an agreement with the United Nations to support the fight against corruption and impunity in the country.
Correct analysis of the Pdte. @petrogustavo. Guatemalan justice is co-opted by corrupt actors seeking revenge for the courageous work of CICIG. The only response this recent criminal investigation deserves is condemnation from the international community. https://t.co/OPxbq2LELy
— Juan Pappier (@JuanPappierHRW) January 17, 2023
The NGO Human Rights Watch also He came out to defend Iván Velásquezdefined his management against the Cicig as “brave” and assured that the investigation for corruption in Guatemala “does not make much sense.”
According to his reading of the situation, which coincides with that of the Gustavo Petro Administration, it is that “Guatemalan justice is co-opted by corrupt actors seeking revenge for the courageous work of Cicig,” in the words of Juan Pappier, acting deputy director of HRW in the Americas.
Pappier insisted on Twitter that “corruption is devastating human rights in Guatemala” and called for a “condemnation” from the international community.
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