[Congressional Record Volume 164, Number 91 (Monday, June 4, 2018)]
[Pages S2963-S2964]
From the Congressional Record Online through the Government Publishing Office [www.gpo.gov]


  Mr. LEAHY. Mr. President, many of us here are familiar with the 
International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, known as CICIG. 
The U.S. Congress and Republican and Democratic administrations have 
supported it for years, and with few exceptions, it is strongly 
supported by the Guatemalan people. That is because CICIG, working 
closely with the Office of the Attorney General, has proven what many 
Guatemalans thought impossible, that even the most powerful government 
officials who commit major crimes believing they are above the law can 
be brought to justice.
  CICIG was created in December 2006, when the United Nations and 
Guatemala signed a treaty-level agreement setting up CICIG as an 
independent body to support the Office of the Attorney General, the 
National Civilian Police, and other Guatemalan Government institutions 
in the investigation and prosecution of particularly sensitive and 
difficult cases. I vividly remember that time, when impunity for even 
the worst crimes was a virtual certainty in Guatemala.
  During more than 35 years of internal armed conflict an estimated 
200,000 Guatemalans, mostly rural Mayan villagers, were murdered--the 
vast majority by the army. Many were rounded up and never seen or heard 
from again. Thanks largely to the efforts of the Guatemala Forensic 
Anthropology Foundation, the tortured remains of many hundreds have 
been found in unmarked mass graves, some on former military bases. 
Hardly anyone has been punished for those atrocities, and past attempts 
to investigate and prosecute some of the individuals responsible were 
  Even in the years since that dark period, almost anyone, especially 
those in positions of authority, got away with anything, including 
assassinations and robbing the public treasury. Today, few crimes 
involving official corruption and violations of human rights are 
prosecuted, and even fewer result in conviction and punishment.
  But those that have been credibly investigated and brought to trial 
are due to the courageous efforts of CICIG and its commissioner, Ivan 
Velasquez, a respected Colombian jurist, and the recently retired 
attorney general, Thelma Aldana, who carried on the tradition of 
independence and integrity established by her predecessor, Claudia Paz 
y Paz. These prosecutors have given hope not only to victims who long 
ago lost faith in Guatemala's dysfunctional justice system, but also to 
many members of the business community who recognize that, without an 
independent judiciary and confidence that the rule of law will be 
enforced, Guatemala will never attract the foreign investment it needs 
to develop.
  Predictably and throughout its history, CICIG has come under attack 
from those who have enriched themselves at public expense and escaped 
justice, including for heinous crimes. Fearing prosecution, they have 
sought to challenge CICIG's legitimacy and impugned the character and 
conduct of its commissioner. Each time, CICIG has survived, thanks to 
the support of the international community.
  Today, CICIG is once again being attacked, including by some senior 
officials, who have sought to exploit factual misrepresentations, 
including those echoed in the Guatemalan and U.S. media, about a 
troubling case involving members of a Russian family who entered 
Guatemala with fraudulent passports. This has even resulted in a 
portion of the funds appropriated by Congress for CICIG to be 
temporarily blocked from disbursement.
  Without recounting the bizarre facts of that case, suffice it to say 
that not a shred of credible evidence has been presented to support the 
allegations of abuse of authority leveled at CICIG and in particular at 
Commissioner Velasquez. That, however, does not appear to matter to 
those who have long sought an excuse to replace Velasquez with someone 
who is susceptible to intimidation. The Bitkov case, which has all the 
makings of a made for TV tragedy, should be appropriately resolved in 
the Guatemalan courts. The family should be treated justly and 
humanely. But CICIG is not the problem.
  It is important to reiterate what the Guatemalan people know: CICIG 
is an absolutely essential institution that has enabled the office of 
the attorney general to break through the wall of impunity in ways that 
would never have been possible without CICIG's support. It is that 
simple. Without CICIG, there is no reason to believe that any case 
involving high-ranking officials or members of organized crime networks 
with the ability to intimidate and bribe prosecutors and judges and 
threaten or assassinate witnesses will be brought to justice.
  It is also a fact that CICIG is only as effective as its commissioner 
and that, while even those who want to rein in CICIG publicly claim to 
support it, they make little secret of their goal to get rid of 

[[Page S2964]]

  Commissioner Velasquez is an experienced, courageous jurist with 
integrity. That is why he was hired for the job, and by all 
indications, he is guilty of nothing more than doing the job he was 
hired to do. The more he does so, the more those who fear prosecution 
will try to find ways to stop him. It is therefore very important at 
this time that the international community, including the United 
States, reaffirms its support for Velasquez and the fight against 
corruption and impunity in Guatemala.
  It is noteworthy that the former attorney general has consistently 
voiced her support for Velasquez because, if anyone should know if 
there is a grain of truth to the allegations against him, it would be 
her. She knows from experience the motivations of those who are aligned 
against CICIG because they have also tried to intimidate her.
  In order for CICIG and Commissioner Velasquez to effectively carry 
out CICIG's mandate through the reminder of its current term that ends 
in September 2019, he needs the support of the Guatemalan Government, 
the United Nations, the United States, and other governments that 
support justice in Guatemala. I commend the Department of State and 
U.S. Ambassador Arreaga for recognizing what is at stake and for 
seeking ways to ensure that CICIG and Commissioner Velasquez can carry 
out their responsibilities transparently and effectively. I also know 
that a majority of Democrats and Republicans respect Commissioner 
Velasquez and want CICIG to receive the funds it needs. I am confident 
that the funds will be released, that CICIG and the role of the 
Commissioner will be enhanced, and that the cause of justice for the 
Guatemalan people will be served.