Guatemalan President blocked by Courts from expelling UN-backed Anti-Corruption Prosecutor

By: Karina Johnson
Impunity Watch Reporter, North America

GUATEMALA CITY, Guatemala On Sunday, August 27, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales ordered the expulsion from Guatemala of Ivan Velasquez, the Colombian prosecutor heading the UN supported anti-corruption panel CICIG.  Mr. Velasquez had requested that Guatemala’s Congress remove President Morales’ presidential immunity to investigation two days prior.

Guatemala’s Congress will make the decision on whether or not to revoke President Morales’ immunity to CICIG’s investigation. Photo Courtesy of The New York Times.

President Morales’ expulsion order was temporarily stopped by Guatemala’s Constitutional Court, in response to which the President protested that the court was infringing on his authority over foreign affairs. On Monday, September 4, the Supreme Court ruled that Mr. Velasquez’s request to remove President Morales’ immunity should be considered by Guatemala’s Congress.

Within the next few days, Guatemala’s Congress will form a small committee to examine the case and present their findings to the rest of Congress.  Two-thirds of the deputies in Congress would then have to vote in favor to remove presidential immunity. As reported by Al Jazeera, many of these deputies are also under investigation by CICIG.

The International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) is a UN-backed organization that has been operating in Guatemala since 2007.  CICIG was begun to combat the widespread governmental and criminal collusion that flourished in Guatemala after 36 years of civil war.  Ivan Velasquez led the CICIG in an investigation that resulted in the resignation and arrest of Guatemala’s previous president, Otto Pérez Molina, in 2015 on corruption charges.

President Morales has been under investigation for allegations of corruption stemming from over $800,000 of undisclosed funds received by his political party, the National Convergence Front, during his 2015 presidential campaign.  According to Reuters, President Morales’ son and brother are currently under CICIG investigation for fraudulent behavior.

In a statement to the Guardian, Anabella Sibrain, director of NGO International Platform against Impunity stated: “What we’ve seen today is an arbitrary act against internationally backed anti-corruption figureheads, but it is also a strong message to the country’s increasingly robust social movements that they could be next.”

Supporters of President Morales claim that CICIG is an example of United Nations interference in a sovereign nation’s judicial processes and a gross overreach.

 For more information, please see:

Brookings – What Guatemala’s political crisis means for anti-corruption efforts everywhere – 7 September 2017

AlJazeera – Guatemala congress to weigh lifting Morales’ immunity – 4 September 2017

Reuters – Guatemalan president may be investigated in campaign finance case – 4 September 2017

AlJazeera – Guatemala top court sides with UN anti-corruption unit – 29 August 2017

The New York Times – Showdown in Guatemala Over Investigation of President – 28 August 2017

The Guardian – Crisis flares in Guatemala over corruption and organized crime – 27 August 2017

Guatemala Gets Long-Overdue Apology for U.S. Unethical Experiments

By Patrick Vanderpool
Impunity Watch Reporter, South America

WASHINGTON, DC – President Obama apologized this week for what many consider the most infamous example of unethical medical research in history.  From 1946-1948, American public health doctors deliberately infected hundreds of Guatemalans with venereal diseases so that the doctors could test the effectiveness of penicillin.

The experiment exposed as many as 700 Guatemalan prisoners, mental health patients and soldiers to these diseases.  Records indicate that the United States actually paid for infected prostitutes to sleep with Guatemalan prisoners in an effort to spread the diseases.  If that did not work, some prisoners had the bacteria introduced to open wounds on their bodies.

It has taken the United States more than 60 years to apologize for the horrific treatment of these Guatemalans.  Although many feel that it is likely more form than function, the U.S. State Department has assured that an investigation will be conducted on the matter.

Guatemalan President Álvaro Colom, who just recently learned of the experiments via a telephone call from Secretary of State Clinton, called them “hair-raising” and “crimes against humanity.” His government said it would cooperate with the American investigation and would also perform an independent investigation of their own.

Professor Reverby, a Wellesley College Professor who is credited with bringing these experiments to public attention with a recent paper, said that the United States Public Health Service “was deeply interested in whether penicillin could be used to prevent, not just cure, early syphilis infection, whether better blood tests for the disease could be established, what dosages of penicillin actually cured infection, and to understand the process of re-infection after cures.”

While many would like to believe that the U.S. discontinued the experiment after only two years because of the ethical and humanitarian considerations, the evidence simply does not support such a finding.  More likely, the project was halted after “medical gossip” began to accumulate and because penicillin, which was quite costly, was being used at an exorbitant rate.

Dr. Mark Siegler, director of the Maclean Center for Clinical Medical Ethics at the University of Chicago’s Medical School, said that “[the project is] appalling — that, at the same time as the United States was prosecuting Nazi doctors for crimes against humanity, the U.S. government was supporting research that placed human subjects at enormous risk.”

Dr. Siegler also stated that the Guatemala experiment was worse than the famous Tuskegee trials that infected African-Americans living in Alabama with syphilis because many of those subjects were infected by natural means, while many of the Guatemalan subjects were infected by inhumane and almost tortuous means.

Perhaps the most disconcerting aspect is that U.S. Public Health Service was entirely aware of the ethical violations at play here, and consciously disregarded them.

For more information, please see:

USA News Week – U.S. Expresses Regret Over Infecting Guatemalans for STD Tests – 2 October 2010

CNN – Studies Show “Dark Chapter” of Medical Research – 1 October 2010

Latin American Herald Tribune – U.S. Apologizes to Guatemala for Syphilis Experiments – 1 October 2010

The New York Times – U.S. Apologizes for Syphilis Tests in Guatemala – 1 October 2010