February 1, 2023

The diplomatic crisis between Colombia and Guatemala over the investigation against a Petro minister: that’s how we got here

Read Time:6 Minute, 28 Second


(CNN Spanish) — An investigation by the Guatemalan Prosecutor’s Office against the current Colombian Defense Minister, Iván Velásquez, in a case being carried out in that country against the construction company Odebrecht for alleged corruption, sparked a diplomatic escalation between Bogotá and Guatemala City, in which Colombia called the process “revenge by politicians”, while Guatemala called for “sanity”.

The situation left the ambassadors of the two countries with calls for consultations, a step prior to breaking diplomatic relations, and the president of Colombia, Gustavo Petro, said that the crisis with Guatemala will go “as far as they want to take the situation.”

Here’s a rundown of how a diplomatic crisis between Colombia and Guatemala came to be.

The investigation against Iván Velásquez in Guatemala

This Monday, the prosecutor of the Special Prosecutor’s Office Against Impunity of Guatemala, Rafael Curruchiche, reported that he would open an investigation against Iván Velásquez for allegedly having allowed cooperation agreements with executives of the Odebrecht construction company during the time that Velásquez was commissioner of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, Cicig, between 2013 and 2017.

According to Curruchiche, Velásquez must answer for “illegal, arbitrary and abusive acts” for said agreements with Odebrecht executives and could be investigated for the crimes of “conspiracy, obstruction of justice, illicit association… and abuse of authority”, the prosecutor told W Radio Colombia on Tuesday.

The prosecutor said on W Radio that until now the investigation would begin and that so far there is no arrest warrant against Velásquez.

Upon learning of this news, Velásquez, who is currently the Colombian Defense Minister, said in a statement that he had not been notified of any requirement by the Guatemalan authorities, and defended his work at Cicig.

“I have the peace of mind that the work carried out in the Central American country was carried out with total transparency and within the legal framework that protected the operation of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala,” the statement said. Velásquez reiterated his commitment to “transparency, justice and the fight against impunity.”

Exclusive: Thelma Aldana reacts to a new arrest warrant against her 2:20

Petro defined to Velasquez

The announcement of the investigation and the accusation against Velásquez did not sit well with the Colombian government. And the president Gustavo Petro He came out to defend his minister saying that his government will not allow “corruption” to persecute Velásquez, and called his ambassador in Guatemala City, Victoria González Ariza, for consultations.

This Wednesday, when he was consulted about the diplomatic crisis with Guatemala, the president said that this will go “as far as they want to take the situation” and described the investigation as a “revenge of politicians.” Petro claimed that Guatemala was violating Colombia’s sovereignty.

“What he is taking revenge for an action that went against impunity taken by the United Nations, not by the Colombian government, but with a Colombian citizen at the forefront and who deserves all respect for his actions,” Petro said from Davos.

“We are not going to accept these revenges of politicians and corrupt people, especially when they try to violate national sovereignty. So they make their decisions, we make ours, but they must have a clear message: Colombia’s sovereignty is respected,” said the Colombian president.

Iván Velásquez, Colombian Defense Minister.

Iván Velásquez, Colombian Defense Minister.

Guatemala calls for “sanity”

Meanwhile, the Guatemalan government responded with the same action as Colombia’s and called its diplomatic representative in Bogotá this week. Via a statement of the Guatemalan Foreign Ministry, added that “it regrets that the Government of Colombia makes a legal issue political.”

In statements to the EFE news agency in Madrid, the president of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei, clarified that so far there is no arrest warrant against Velásquez, only an investigation process, and regretted the position of the Petro government.

“In this case, I would tell Mr. Petro – perhaps the problem is that after having been persecuted and trafficked, he does not understand the situation very much – that withdrawing the ambassadors is the only thing that puts us on the verge of breaking up,” he said.

Giammattei called not to fall into Petro’s game, whom he asked for sanity.

“Sanity in politics means fighting corruption. Those who allow the mafia to take over the state only lead society to genocide. The history of Guatemala and Colombia are full of genocide for handing over the State to the mafias,” Petro tweeted.

Meanwhile, Guatemala’s anti-corruption prosecutor insists that the investigation against Velásquez “is an objective and impartial investigation,” he said on W Radio.

The Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs at the US Department of State, Brian A. Nichols, expressed concern about the investigation, saying that such actions “undermine the rule of law and trust in the justice system.” Guatemalan justice.

Who is the CICIG commissioner? 2:12

Velásquez’s role in Cicig

Iván Velásquez is a prominent investigator who for years served as a prosecutor in Colombia, bringing important cases to justice, such as the frontal fight against the self-defense groups in Colombia and exposing the nexus of the self-defense groups with various political figures.

He managed to convict more than 50 congressmen and revealed the links of more than 130 deputies with criminal structures linked to the so-called “narcopolitics”, according to the UN.

In 2013 he was appointed as commissioner of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala, an organization attached to the United Nations. There he revealed important cases of corruption that affected four former presidents of the country and, ultimately, pointed out then-ex-president Jimmy Morales for illegal electoral financing.

In 2015, together with Guatemala’s Attorney General Thelma Aldana, Cicig dismantled the La Línea case, a multimillion-dollar customs fraud ring that investigations found was led by former President Otto Pérez Molina and former Vice President Roxana Valdetti. Although both pleaded not guilty, they had to drop their charges.

In December 2022, Pérez Molina and Valdetti were sentenced to 16 years in prison for the crimes of illicit association and a special case of tax fraud. Both were acquitted for the crime of illicit enrichment. The two have been in prison since 2015 and during the entire time the process lasted they rejected the accusations.

Since September 2017, Cicig, which for 10 years has revealed high-impact cases in Guatemala, has suffered attacks from the government of President Jimmy Morales.

Velásquez has also been critical of the administration of Alejandro Giammattei. In 2021, he said the president’s commitment to US Vice President Kamala Harris to fight corruption “is not a sincere commitment” and that corrupt power has spread in government.

Prosecutor Thelma Aldana, head of the Public Ministry (i), and Iván Velásquez, president of the CICIG, speak during a meeting with Spanish businessmen in Guatemala City. (Credit: JOHAN ORDONEZ/AFP/Getty Images)

other defendants

Prosecutor Curruchiche also reported that he issued four arrest warrants in this case, including that of the former Guatemalan attorney general, Thelma Aldana.

Curruchiche added that these four people who have an arrest warrant are accused of obstruction of Justice, conspiracy and abuse of authority.

After the announcement of the arrest warrants from the Guatemalan Prosecutor’s Office, CNN contacted Thelma Aldana, who responded: “The criminalization by Consuelo Porras and Curruchiche continues, both designated on the Engel List as corrupt. I regret that the rule of law has been lost in Guatemala.”

Aldana, who was Guatemala’s Attorney General until 2018, remains in the United States under government-approved asylum after, according to the former prosecutor, the United States Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) revealed that there was a plan to assassinate her in Guatemala.

— With information from Gerardo Lemos and Melissa Velásquez of CNN en Español.





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