Against the Odds: CICIG in Guatemala

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March 2016

In 2007, amid rampant violence and corruption, the government of Guatemala asked the United Nations to provide institutional support for its beleaguered criminal justice system. 

At first, the new International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (known by its Spanish acronym, CICIG) seemed to have little chance of success. Its team of international and local investigators and lawyers faced determined opposition from entrenched powers in Guatemala. It was hampered by misconceptions at the UN and uncertainty over its mandate. Despite some successes, periods of frustration and drift led to the resignations of its first two commissioners.

Yet CICIG has helped Guatemala score a series of dramatic victories for the rule of law, including the spectacular exposure in 2015 of the massive La Línea corruption scheme, which led to the resignation and arrest of President Otto Pérez Molina.

Against the Odds tells the story of CICIG, from its controversial, convoluted founding through its struggles, to its success, alongside local prosecutors, in exposing La Línea and igniting the nationwide protests that upended Guatemala’s political order.

Although its work is not finished, many Guatemalans now look to CICIG as a symbol of hope that corruption can be overcome. For other states struggling with endemic corruption, organized crime, and compromised institutions, CICIG offers a potentially powerful example of how to reinforce the rule of law.


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