Corruption is a global problem, which severely impacts people's well-being. No country in the world is exempt from cases of criminal acts committed by public officials and authorities who abuse the power entrusted to them to administer public resources efficiently, democratically, and transparently. These resources have been generated by the very people from the country so that they can be put to use for the common good, but they are used by corrupt officials for personal advantage and enrichment.
Carlos Sajmoló Pichiyá, AVCCP Representative and Spokesperson
According to the international coalition Transparency International, Guatemala is among the most corrupt countries in the world. This coalition produces an annual Corruption Perception Index (CPI), the most widely used indicator of corruption worldwide. The CPI scores and classifies countries and territories according to the public's perception of corruption, collected through surveys and evaluations compiled by accredited institutions. Guatemala's ranking in 2019 was 146 out of 180 countries evaluated. It is also among the five most corrupt countries in the Americas, ranking 11th of the 15 countries included in the Fighting Corruption Capacity Index, developed by the Anti-Corruption Working Group of the Americas Society (AS) and the Council of the Americas (COA). According to this index, Guatemala experienced a setback in its legal and democratic capacities following the departure of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG) in August 2019, which was unilaterally dissolved by the government of Jimmy Morales in January of that year. A very positive development highlighted by the index, however, was the strengthening of organized civil society which, unlike other countries, has maintained the fight against corruption as a central theme among its citizen demands.
Organized citizens exercise their right to monitor and denounce abuses
The AVCCP is a grassroots organization, with no links to political parties. It is made up of more than 150 residents from the municipality of Patzicía (Chimaltenango), most of whom are Maya Kaqchikel. This association began its struggle on August 26, 2016, inspired by the citizen mobilizations that took place throughout the country in 2015, as well as by the work of the CICIG, which led to the unveiling and prosecution of several corruption networks at the highest levels of the State.
The neighbor begin organizing to monitor the actions of municipal corporations in response to irregularities in the administration of municipal public services, specifically water distribution and public lighting management, in the municipality of Patzicía. In addition, they also focused on monitoring the actions of the municipal government in relation to public investments, demanding that citizens be consulted about issues of interest and that their decisions be respected.
In 2020, the National Network of Citizen Commissions and Collectives for Transparency and Probity (at the national level), of which the AVCCP is a member, was formed and launched. This network allows for the exchange of good practices in the fight against corruption and mutual strengthening between organizations.
The AVCCP relies on the principal legislative instruments in force to carry out its actions: the Inter-American Convention against Corruption (1996), ratified by the state of Guatemala in 2001; the United Nations Convention against Corruption, adopted by its General Assembly in 2003; and the Law against Corruption, decreed by the Congress of the Republic of Guatemala in 2012.
Carlos Sajmoló Pichiyá, representative of the AVCCP, explains the reason for the association's existence: Guatemala has had to endure the looting of our national coffers by public officials, in addition to robbery by the economic elites. The illicit enrichment of public officials causes increased poverty for the people. The actions of the AVCCP are based on the conviction that there can be no peace in Guatemala while there is corruption, only a few benefit from this illicit enrichment meanwhile the majority of the population experiences further unjust impoverishment.
One of the most recent actions taken by the AVCCP was a social audit of the implementation of state programs to combat the COVID-19 crisis in the municipality of Patzicía. During the first half of 2020, the government of Alejandro Giammattei had been overseeing the distribution of an unprecedented package of assistance funds to combat the negative effects of this crisis, especially the lack of work and income for households, increased malnutrition and starvation. Given Guatemala's structural weaknesses in public contracting and other related areas, concerns have been raised that much of these funds, which were approved to alleviate the effects of the health crisis, are unlikely to be used for this purpose. The recently created Presidential Commission against Corruption has already identified irregularities in several government institutions in the management of these funds. The AVCCP will present the results of the audit publicly, in order to demonstrate the importance of an attentive and critical citizenry which, as its representative comments, can serve as an example for other municipalities and communities across the country.
In the words of Carlos Sajmoló: "Not only must corruption be punished, it must be prevented, and this can be done through social audits. The AVCCP preaches by example: Our dream is that Guatemala will have 340 organizations which fight against corruption, as many organizations as there are municipalities in the country. It is time to unite our thoughts and voices to monitor how the public resources of the people of Guatemala are managed, so that we can have functional public institutions such as education, health care, etc. It is time to fight so that future generations can enjoy a country where development can finally begin.”
The risks of fighting corruption
The work carried out by the AVCCP has resulted in acts of aggression and political persecution towards its leaders. Carlos Sajmoló Pichiyá, spokesperson for the organization, has experienced various attacks and threats, including physical assault and illegal detention. However, the most serious attack against the organization so far has been the process of criminalization against Carlos Sajmoló himself. This process of criminalization is a malicious response to his demand that the Municipal Development Council (COMUDE) of Patzicía’s rejection, which has been documented, be respected and that a community consultation regarding the project to build a sub-station by the company Red Eléctrica de Centroamérica S.A. (RECSA) in the municipality be carried out. On August 22, 2018, the municipality of Patzicía granted a license for the construction of the substation, whose application had previously been rejected by the COMUDE. As a result, there were a series of social mobilizations organized by the AVCCP and the COMUDE of Patzicía, demanding respect for the right to prior community consultation, which culminated in the revocation of the license on September 18, 2018.
The public hearing against the human rights defender was held on January 29, 2020, during which he was accused of the crimes of threatening the security of public services, activities threatening the security of the nation, threats, coercion, instigation to commit crime, illegal arrests, and illegal detentions for actions allegedly committed during the September 2018 protests. The judge declared lack of merit, however, RECSA and the Public Ministry appealed the resolution, and the accusation was presented to the Mixed Regional Chamber of the Court of Appeals of Antigua Guatemala. In mid-October, Carlos Sajmoló received the notification informing him that this chamber rejected the appeal and reconfirmed the original decision lack of merit issued on August 11 of this year.
PBI began to accompany the AVCCP in April as a result of the threats and the criminalization process described. We are monitoring their situation by telephone and raising awareness about their case and the important citizen work they are carrying out, through our advocacy and communication programs.