Did The Woodrow Wilson Center ‘Meddle’ In Central America Politics By Inviting Leftist Who Guatemala President Sought To Expel?
The federally financed Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars rolled out the red carpet to Ivan Velasquez, a left-wing activist who the president of Guatemala attempted to expel from his country in 2017.
Velasquez spoke before the center March 5 in Washington, D.C.
Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales declared Velasquez persona non grata in August and ordered him to leave the country immediately, but the courts blocked his order.
Morales, like Trump, is an outsider to politics. The Guatemalan originally was a comedian and a nonpartisan outsider in a country torn apart by civil war. The people elected him hoping he would be an incorruptible leader and because he called for many reforms.
Morales also recently made news when he announced his country would follow President Donald Trump and move its Israeli embassy to Jerusalem, formally recognizing it as the country’s capital.
Velasquez has been a foe of Morales. He is a former Colombian judge who leads a non-governmental group called the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala or CICIG. The U.N. created the CICIG in 2008, and critics say the group has overstepped its bounds and become directly involved in Guatemalan politics — mainly from the leftist perspective, according to Steve Hecht, an American living in Guatemala and the editor-in-chief of the Impunity Observer.
The CIGIG purportedly sought to advance justice in Guatemala after 34 years of a brutal civil war, but from the group’s inception, it has focused only on investigating one party in the conflict, so-called “illegal security forces” allied with the government. It does not focus on atrocities or excesses perpetuated by Marxist guerrilla groups.
The Wilson Center’s topic was about choosing Guatemala’s next attorney general, which Morales tried to de-politicize after a decade of leftist intervention in the judiciary.
The Wilson Center’s offer of a platform to Velasquez constituted political “meddling” in Guatemala’s affairs, Carlotta Torres, president of the nonprofit Guatemalan group Liga Pro-Patria, told The Daily Caller News Foundation.
“This is meddling in Guatemala’s internal affairs regarding a political decision for Guatemalans and their authorities. It pressures Guatemala’s authorities and violates his diplomatic status,” she told TheDCNF in a statement.
Morales has been a strong supporter of Trump. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley traveled to Guatemala City Feb. 28 and thanked Morales for his decision on the embassy move and for supporting the Trump administration over human rights in Venezuela.
Guatemala was also only one of nine nations that sided with the U.S. in a U.N. vote condemning the decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem.
Although the U.N. General Assembly formally recognized the CICIG in 2008, the group does not report to the U.N. and is not accountable to any body, according its mandate. It has received $44 million from the U.S. The left-leaning group received enormous political support from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Ambassador Todd Robinson as Hecht outlined. To date, however, the Trump administration has not cut off funding to the group.
“Velasquez now leads the most powerful political force in Guatemala in opposition to the president,” Hecht told TheDCNF.
The left-leaning Constitutional Court defied Morales in August and rejected the president’s attempt to expel Velasquez from the country. The U.N., a long-time supporter of the CICIG, also came to the Velasquez’s defense, along with many countries including the U.S.
Hecht told TheDCNF he regarded Velasquez trip to Washington as a lobby effort of Congress and the Department of State in order to influence the choice for the country’s next attorney general. “Ivan Velasquez was at the Wilson Center as part of his efforts to convince U.S. legislators and policymakers to support the State Department in pressuring the nominating commission for attorney general and President Morales to appoint an attorney general to his liking.”
Recent Guatemalan attorneys general have been highly polarizing. Morales predecessor, with the help of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, was able to have Claudia Paz y Paz appointed Attorney General, according to Hecht.
Paz y Paz had deep sympathies for Marxist guerrillas during the civil war. Her own father was part of the the Rebel Armed Forces, or FAR, whose militant group kidnapped and assassinated U.S. Ambassador John Gordon Mein in 1968 as he was traveling to the U.S. Embassy. Mein became the first U.S. Ambassador to be killed while in service. FAR had previously assassinated two U.S. military aides on their way to the embassy.
FAR was an official military organization under the URNG, the Guatemalan National Revolutionary Unity. Today URNG continues to openly operate in Guatemala as a non-governmental human rights and activist organization.
Torres told TheDCNF Velasquez, who also collaborates with the URNG, “exceeded his authority by attending an event at the Wilson Center regarding the selection of Guatemala’s next attorney general.”
Karen Edda Ness, from Guatemala, attended the forum and told the audience she filed a complaint with the CICIG against the URNG for its violence and intimidation of local villagers. She asked Velasquez why his group summarily dismissed her complaint in March 2015.
In her complaint, Ness charged the URNG intimidated communities that opposed promising business projects, including a massive hydroelectric plant, using socialist dogma combined with violence. Marxist groups throughout the country intimidate those who support business development in the rural areas where they are based and attack villagers who criticize URNG and other socialist groups.
Ness cited the disappearance of Casimiro Perez, a citizen of the village of Nuevo San Francisco, after he testified against URNG and one of its congressmen Carlos Mejia according to her complaint to CICIG.
“In the last three years, this kind of (URNG) behavior has worsened, sending the economy in those poor areas into a crisis because nothing was done about it. Isn’t this the kind of impunity the commission is supposed to be fighting against,” Ness asked Velasquez at the Wilson Center meeting.
Velasquez said its “policy of selection and prioritization of cases” meant CICIG could not take up the Ness complaint, according to March 11, 2015 letter from Velasquez and TheDCNF obtained. The letter was addressed to Guatemalan Attorney General Thelma Esperanza Aldana.
“The CICIG is a very small organization without much capacity with $44 million just from the US,” Velasquez explained at the Wilson Center, saying they “could not investigate every case.”
“I know that there are in Guatemala many issues that have not been addressed and of a diverse nature, including issues that could be serious or that are serious. We are trying to, with the possibility of increased funds, we could take on more issues. What I can assure you is that we never ignore cases because of discrimination,” he told Ness.
Ness said she was not satisfied.
“He did not answer my question. He just made excuses about why he had not done anything,” she told TheDCNF.
It was significant that former Colombian President Alvaro Uribe — who single-handedly defeated the peace referendum for the Marxist FARC rebels — threw his support behind the Guatemalan president when Morales tried to expel Velasquez. Before joining CICIG, Velasquez was a Colombian judge who threatened many politicians with corruption charges, including Uribe and his family.
Uribe went on Guatemalan television and radio supporting the move to expel Velasquez saying, “the corruption is not defeated by judges such as Ivan Velasquez who use justice to condemn their supposed political enemies,” according to British journalist Richard McColl who resides in Latin America.
Under Velasquez, CICIG solely sought to investigate Guatemalan security organizations and former government leaders. The group never investigated any of the previous Marxist guerrillas who carried out atrocities during the civil war, according to a DCNF review of its work. This DCNF reporter was in Guatemala in 2014 and reported on Marxist intimidation of villagers, especially in the Western half of the country.
CICIG helped jail previous Guatemalan President Alfonso Portillo, supported genocide charges against former President Efrain Rios Montt, supported the prosecution of the ex-Director of the National Civilian Police and many former military officers. No Marxist guerrillas ever faced prosecution with help from CICIG.
The left-wing Constitutional Court convicted Montt, but the country’s top court overturned the ruling 1o days later. The country’s top court said the entire proceeding was unlawful.
Guatemalan congressman Fernando Linares Beltranena appealed to the Trump administration in a March 2017 open letter to cut funding for the CIGIC.
If the Trump administration were to learn that the CICIG has violated its mandate and the law to the detriment of Guatemala and the United States, I have no doubt they would limit CICIG, of which the US is the principal contributor and political supporter,” he wrote.
He charged the supporters of CICIG saw it as a model that could inject “harmful UN intervention that imposes its globalist political agenda through control of criminal prosecution.”
The Wilson Center gets about a third of its funding from appropriated federal funds and it receives a free 30-year lease for its offices in the Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center located in prime real estate on Pennsylvania Avenue two blocks from the White House.
The Wilson Center did not respond to repeated requests for comment by TheDCNF.