When UN Interventionism Goes Wrong, the Case of Guatemala

Guatemalan personalities promoted the creation of CICIG, thinking they could overcome the serious problems that exist in that nation’s judicial system. But the remedy, unfortunately, has been worse than the disease. (FEE)

EspañolTwo pieces of judicial news that came out July 12 have attracted my attention.

The first, shocking no doubt, is that the former President of Brazil Luis Inacio Lula da Silva has been sentenced to nine-and-a-half years in prison for his involvement in the “Lava Jato” corruption case — a multi-billion-dollar scheme that has already cost Dilma Rousseff the presidency. The case demonstrates how to combat corruption in Latin America, and how we can move toward a more transparent method of conducting politics.

The second piece of news, which will surely have gone unnoticed by most of my readers, is that the Swiss federal court overturned the life sentence of Guatemala-Switzerland citizen Edwin Sperisen.

Sperisen was the Director of the National Police in Guatemala during an operation to retake control of a prison that had fallen into the hands of a group of criminals incarcerated there. During the operation, seven inmates died in the confusion and Sperisen was accused of murder, among other charges.

What does all this have to do with the United Nations? The relationship between the events is actually quite straightforward. It just so happens that the International Commission for the Fight against Impunity in Guatemala is operated through the UN. CICIG played a substantial role in the investigation that led to the trial of Sperisen, the interior minister, the chief of the prisons and other officials deemed to have planned a massacre for the sake of “social cleansing.”

The accusation was unsustainable: What occurred during the raid of the prison did not coincide with Sperisen or others’ desires. Not to mention that the raid was widely publicized, meaning no illicit action could have been carried out so easily. Nevertheless, CICIG made use of testimonies from false witnesses and ultimately prompted a number of accusations against the alleged suspects.

CICIG wanted convictions that would make a high impact, communicate significance and, perhaps, improve the image of the commission as a whole. Perhaps there were other motives beyond our understanding. What we do know, however, is that the allegations were unjust, as demonstrated by the events of recent days: Sperisen and others was declared innocent.

This is not, it should be noted, an isolated incident. CICIG also unjustly accused other people in the well-known Rosenberg case. They were finally released after it was determined no crime had been committed. CICIG commissioners, including Ivan Velásquz, have not hesitated to intervene in local politics, even promoting a change of the constitution despite that being an obvious overreach of their duties.

They have gathered information that led to charges against former President Otto Pérez Molina, his Vice President and various Ministers, among other high-ranking officials. That has allowed the commission to regain some of its lost prestige, but a problem still remains: it is not yet known if there will be enough valid evidence to lead to their convictions.

Somewhat naively, several Guatemalan personalities promoted the creation of CICIG, thinking they could overcome the serious problems that exist in that nation’s judicial system. But the remedy, unfortunately, has been worse than the disease: guided by ideological considerations or the personal interests of those who run it, CICIG has been even more partial than the court system. It intimidates some and leaves in the dark the crimes of others. It only contributes to making the justice system even more unreliable. The solution, therefore, is not to call on the United Nations to intervene in our affairs, but rather to ask citizens to effectively pursue it themselves.

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