Corruption rife in Guatemalan politics - UN report

A newspaper vendor walks through a row of signs promoting candidates in Guatemala City. Picture: AP
A newspaper vendor walks through a row of signs promoting candidates in Guatemala City. Picture: AP
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A QUARTER of the money fuelling Guatemalan politics comes from criminal organisations, primarily drug traffickers, according to a report released by a United Nations commission.

The UN’s International Commission Against Impunity also said in the report that government contractors contribute slightly more than 50 per cent of political campaign financing.

The commission concluded that the country’s elections are rife with illegal money and corruption is the glue holding the system together.

Political parties consistently spend far more money than they report taking in and several regularly exceed spending limits without consequence. “Corruption is the unifying element of the Guatemalan political system based on an amalgam of interests that include politicians, officials, public entities, businessmen, non-governmental organisations and criminal groups,” Ivan Velasquez, head of the commission, said.

The report recommended campaign finance reforms – for example, setting private campaign financing at 20 per cent.

“It is a reflection on everyone, it affects all of us,” said Javier Zepeda, executive director of the Chamber of Industry. “We believe that today more than ever we have to sit down, unite and think of a country in the future.”

The report was released one day after the same commission and Guatemalan prosecutors petitioned to have a candidate for vice-president stripped of his immunity for allegedly laundering funds that were later used to finance political activities. Prosecutors accused Edgar Barquin, vice-presidential candidate of the Renewed Democratic Liberty party, and his brother Manuel Barquin, one of the most influential federal politicians from the same party, of a variety crimes. Guatemalan law gives lawmakers and candidates immunity from prosecution.

The Renewed Democratic Liberty party is an opposition party, but leads in the polls for the September national elections.

Edgar Barquin is the former head of Guatemala’s central bank.

Velasquez said on Wednesday that Barquin used his influence to protect businesses that were making suspicious financial transactions. Those funds were later used for illicit campaign finance. In response, his brother, Manuel Barquin, said they only ask for “due process and that the principle of innocence that people have is respected”.

The commission’s investigation found money was laundered abroad then used to finance the Great National Alliance party in 2011 elections.

Velasquez said the commission, which has been operating in Guatemala since 2007, could assert that “many of these funds come from drug trafficking”.