Ivan Velasquez, the new director of the UN-backed International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), is a Colombian prosecutor with a history of taking on criminal interests and corruption. Velasquez is widely known as a driving force behind the “parapolitics scandal,” a series of investigations which uncovered links between Colombian politicians and the paramilitary AUC. Prior to that, he presided over the public prosecutor’s office in Antioquia in the early 1990s, when notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar was at the peak of his power.
But for all his experience, heading the CICIG may be his toughest challenge yet, as Velasquez will start his new job at a very difficult moment for the commission. Guatemalan President Otto Perez has stressed that this will be the organization’s final two years in the country. Its mandate expires in September 2015, and because new elections won’t be held until that month it is unlikely that this timeframe will change. This gives Velasquez two years to complete the CICIG’s mission of strengthening Guatemala’s judicial branch, or at the very least to ensure that the gains made so far are not reversed. According to the commission’s latest annual report (.pdf), impunity levels for murder cases have fallen from 95 percent in 2009 to 72 percent in 2012, a significant drop for the country’s notoriously rickety court system.
Velasquez’s first task will be to patch up relations with state institutions in Guatemala, which were damaged by the combative style of his predecessor, Francisco Dall'Anese. The former director famously fell out with the Perez administration over his outspokenness during the trial against ex-dictator Efrain Rios Montt. On top of this, according to a May report by Guatemala’s ContraPoder, his confrontational tactics and perceived closeness to newspaper elPeriodico caused Dall'Anese to lose favor with the United Nations.
Dall'Anese has officially stepped down, but his legacy will not soon be forgotten. Last week Siglo21 broke the story that the current head of the country’s Constitutional Court, Hector Hugo Perez Aguilera, claimed he was the target of a potentially unlawful attempt by the CICIG to bully him into convicting former President Alfonso Portillo of corruption when he was on trial in September 2011. In a confidential complaint filed by Perez Aguilera, the judge said that Dall'Anese’s secretary, Thomas Pastor, had implied that the U.S. visas of him and his family could be revoked if he motioned to acquit Portillo. In spite of the threat, Portillo was found not guilty, though he was later extradited to the U.S. on money laundering charges.
In response to the allegations, on August 29, lawmakers of the conservative Institutional Republican Party (PRI) introduced a motion to immediately revoke the CICIG’s mandate. Although the initiative failed, it served as a reminder that Velasquez will have to overcome a hostile political climate as well as judicial corruption in the months to come.
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