The U.S. funds Guatemalan abuse

lunes, 27 de agosto de 2018


Mary Anastasia O’Grady

The illegal incarceration of Max Quirin and five other former executive-board members of Guatemala’s national health-care institute sounds like banana-republic justice. But much of the responsibility for the state crimes perpetrated against these innocent people lies with the U.S. Congress.

Congress funds almost half the budget of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG. The commission, created in 2006 to combat crime and corruption, is running roughshod over law-abiding Guatemalans.

Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the subcommittee on state and foreign operations, didn’t respond to requests for comment on CICIG’s lawlessness. Sen. Patrick Leahy, the subcommittee’s ranking Democrat and a champion of human rights in Latin America, admits CICIG could be improved but cheers it. Without it, he says, “high-ranking officials, or members of criminal networks with the ability to intimidate prosecutors and judges and threaten or assassinate witnesses,” could not be brought to justice.

By that logic extralegal reprisals are justified because criminality exists. Who needs due process?

Mr. Quirin is a successful entrepreneur, but he has also donated much of his time to his nation. He has served on the monetary board of Guatemala’s central bank, as president of the national coffee association, and as an adviser to Funrural (now Funcafe), a nonprofit supported by coffee growers to provide social services to the poor. In the aftermath of Hurricane Mitch in 1998, he piloted his own plane with supplies into devastated areas that could not be reached by road.

In 2010 he agreed to serve on the executive board of the Guatemalan Social Security Institute, or IGSS, which provides public health care. That decision would cost him three years and three months of his life-and counting.

At 6 a.m. on May 20, 2015, police arrested Mr. Quirin at his home in Guatemala City without telling him why. He was taken to a courthouse parking garage and put in a cage. It is illegal to hold anyone in that dungeon for more than 24 hours, but Mr. Quirin spent a week there, along with the five other members of the IGSS executive board. They were charged with fraud.

CICIG lead prosecutor Iván Velásquez held a press conference to condemn the defendants. Media were invited to photograph the board members in the cages, as gang members in adjacent cages jeered. Two of the six defendants have since died in jail. One committed suicide after being denied medical care for depression.

The board members are in jail because they signed a 2015 contract with the Mexican company Pisa to provide dialysis treatment. CICIG alleges that they committed fraud in signing that contract, but it has produced no evidence of a crime.

The executive board followed established procedure by randomly selecting the tender board, which handled the bidding process, from a list of vetted candidates provided by IGSS management. CICIG says not all the candidates were suitable. But as the defense attorney argued in court, the executive board does not screen tender-board candidates. Nor does it rule on the suitability of bidders.

The executive board’s job is to review the contract and ensure a compliance bond is provided. If there were any violations, they were administrative, not criminal. I asked CICIG what happened to the bond; it evaded the question. The attorney general’s office admitted in court that no board members were linked to wiretap evidence or found in possession of unexplained wealth. Not finding a crime, CICIG now alleges incompetence. In his closing remarks CICIG prosecutor César Rincón said no board member caused any financial damage to IGSS. He branded them white-collar criminals anyway.

In June 2015 the executive director of the Specialty Coffee Association of America, Ric Rhinehart, wrote a letter to the U.S. ambassador to Guatemala, Todd Robinson, about Mr. Quirin, calling him a “respected figure in my industry” and “a role model for my children.” I “can attest to having witnessed him making the honorable choice at every juncture we encountered together,” Mr. Rhinehart wrote. Preventive detention is limited to one year by law. Mr. Quirin has been denied bail several times. Meanwhile the leftist Juan Alberto Fuentes Knight, a former president of Oxfam International and former finance minister facing corruption charges, was granted bail at $66,000 within a month of his arrest.

After 10 years in Guatemala, CICIG has few convictions and it needs scalps to please the likes of Mr. Leahy. It’s betting that indefinite imprisonment will convince the innocent to confess to something they didn’t do and sign plea deals to get out.

At Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s request, there is a hold on a $6 million disbursement for the corrupt CICIG, pending meaningful reform. But CICIG protects the Guatemalan left, and a congressional aide told me that key Democrats are pushing hard to lift the hold. So much for human rights.

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