Insight Crime investigation on Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG

Steven Dudley provides a terrific overview of CICIG and Carlos Castresana’s efforts to dismantle organized crime for Insight Crime with Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The CICIG. It’s long and part of a series (Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: Introduction and Guatemala Elites and Organized Crime: The ‘Huistas’) but worth your time.

The question of how much influence these elites exerted over Castresana — and by extension the CICIG — is at the heart of this case study. Castresana was not corrupt or nefarious. The Spanish judge did the hard work of setting up the commission, pushing for important legal reforms, helping to vet the country’s putrid court system, and to train local prosecutors in modern criminal investigative techniques. He prosecuted several important cases, including a landmark case that saved the presidency of Álvaro Colom, which was on the brink of collapse due, in part, to pressure from various rival elites. And the CICIG — after Castresana left — did eventually bring cases against some of those accused in the Vielman cases, although many of them, including Vielman, were tried in Europe. But questions remain about his tenure, questions that we probed for this case study.

To do this study, we investigated the actions of the controversial and often celebrated Commissioner Castresana through dozens of interviews with former CICIG employees, government officials, diplomats, and political and judicial analysts. We also analyzed the CICIG in the larger context, and we studied the CICIG’s cases and tried to determine whether the commission targeted or favored one group over another. Most of all, we looked closely at specific, hallmark cases through the prism of the battle between the different elites in Guatemala. Among them was the case the CICIG built against Vielman, but there were many others, some of which involved the reason the commission was created in the first place: the CIACS. 

Perhaps their comments were provided anonymously, but it would have been helpful to hear the voices of various representatives of the international community (the United States and other CICIG funders), the criminal justice system, civil society, and the public at large in the report. Certain political and economic elites (reluctantly) supported the establishment of the CICIG because the public, civil society, and the international community were in favor of such a commission.What were their expectations for CICIG and how well did Castresana and his staff meet them? Do they believe that not enough progress was made under Castresana? If so, why not? It also would have been nice to hear Castresana’s comments about his term as commissioner.

There’s some discussion at the end with regards to Conrado Reyes, but I would have liked to read more about CICIG’s relationship with the Public Ministry and attorney general. How well did they work with Castresana and CICIG? How did their relationship change over time?

Elites and members of organized crime clearly sought to discredit Castresana out of self-interest. They were making tons of money in a system that favored them. However, much of the early part of the article addresses the civil war in Guatemala where we see the establishment of criminal security structures. The investigation never returns to transitional justice issues which seems to have been one of the big challenges of the last ten years. What role did CICIG play in these cases, if any, and how did the Public Ministry’s pursuit of transitional justice (Dos Erres and Efrain Rios Montt) affect CICIG’s relationship with various actors in the country?

There were also organized efforts by people connected to the UFM to discredit Castresana and CICIG. These criticisms were presented more as principled disagreements with Castresana and frustration with the fact that he had not succeeded as much as he should have with regards to attacking illegal security structures. I’m not sure that’s the case. Voices from civil society and the public would have helped here as well as voices from those at Plaza Publica and Nomada.

Finally, the report leaves open what significant reforms occurred under Castresana that paved the way for the progress of the last five-plus year. Some cases begun under Castresana found momentum under the next commissioner. It’s buried at the end, but I wanted to read some of the significant ways in which CICIG under Castresana improved the criminal justice system and set the stage for future progress – the strengthening of prosecutors and the courts and improved technical capabilities. The high risk court was established while Castresana was in Guatemala. Such questions would need greater attention as to how things did or did not change under the next commissioner, Francisco Dall’Anese.

I’m looking forward to the other two parts of the series.