Political Storm Circling Guatemalan President Morales

Aug 24, 2017
Originally published on August 24, 2017 7:42 am
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Guatemala's president, Jimmy Morales, is a former comedian, but no one is laughing about the way he's treating a U.N. anti-corruption commission. That panel is investigating bribery charges involving members of Morales's family. And as NPR's Carrie Kahn reports, the crisis is damaging the president's reputation as a clean government crusader.

CARRIE KAHN, BYLINE: The political storm circling Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales exploded during a raucous press conference in the country's capital yesterday. As reporters shouted questions about the president's rumored plans to seek the removal of the head of the U.N.'s anti-corruption commission, spokesman Heinz Heimann would only say strengthening the judicial system was the government's goal.

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HEINZ HEIMANN: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: "We can no longer depend on just one person to make sure our judicial system is working or not," said Heimann as reporters continued shouting over him. Guatemala's president, Jimmy Morales, scheduled a meeting with the U.N. secretary general about the anti-corruption commission. Known by its acronym CICIG, the commission has been investigating corruption in Guatemala for more than a decade. Its current chief, Ivan Velasquez, a Colombian lawyer, has uncovered multiple corruption cases, including one that has Guatemala's former president and vice president in jail awaiting trial.

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THELMA ALDANA: (Speaking Spanish).

KAHN: Instead of bestowing the highest honor on Ivan Velasquez, he's threatening him with expulsion, the country's attorney general, Thelma Aldana, told TV station Guatevision. She then said she would resign if President Morales forces the commission's chief out. Morales, a former comedian, swept into office two years ago as a political outsider untouched by Guatemala's notorious corruption. But recently, his brother and son have been accused of bribery. Eric Olson of the Latin American program at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, D.C., told me over Skype that Morales could be sending the wrong message.

ERIC OLSON: That corruption is OK and that efforts to stamp corruption are not going to be tolerated. And so it could set Guatemala back.

KAHN: Members of the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee warned Morales that the removal of the anti-corruption chief could jeopardize future foreign assistance to Guatemala. Carrie Kahn, NPR News.

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