Press Release

March 7, 2019
Cardin, Leahy, Torres, McGovern Introduce Bill to Protect the Rule of Law in Guatemala

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) have introduced the Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act to authorize Global Magnitsky Act sanctions against Guatemalan officials who have engaged in corruption, obstructed justice, misused U.S.-provided equipment, disobeyed Guatemalan Constitutional Court rulings, and interfered with the work of the U.S. government. In Guatemala, the actions of a government facing corruption investigations have placed the country’s stability and democracy in jeopardy and have undermined U.S.-supported efforts to address the root cause of migration.

The Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act would address systemic corruption in Guatemala and troubling recent developments that risk undermining the rule of law and human rights.  The bill directly addresses the corruption and abuses that feeds poverty and violence, root causes of the migration from the region. U.S. Representatives Norma J. Torres (D-Calif.) and James P. McGovern (D-Mass.) led the introduction of the companion legislation in the House of Representatives.

“This bill affirms our support for anti-corruption initiatives, justice, and accountability in Guatemala.  Corruption exacerbates the insecurity, governance, and economic challenges that drive so many Guatemalans to leave their homes,” Senator Cardin said.  “We must uphold U.S. commitment to the rule of law, while ensuring a more efficient, appropriate use of U.S. assistance addressing the root causes of migration from Guatemala.”

“This bill is a direct response to flagrant actions by officials in Guatemala to subvert the rule of law,” said Senator Leahy. “Whether expelling the CICIG Commissioner, seeking to oust Constitutional Court magistrates, or threatening political candidates, corruption and abuse of power are driving this alarming, backward trend.  This bill makes clear that public officials and their associates who engage in corrupt acts, and who work to undermine the independence of the judiciary, will pay a very real price.”

“Faced with allegations of corruption, Guatemalan President Jimmy Morales has allied with criminal and corrupt actors who are intent on thwarting justice at any cost. He’s ordered the removal of a U.S.-funded anti-corruption commission, decimated the leadership of the National Civilian Police, attacked the independence of the judiciary, and shamelessly used U.S. provided J8 Jeeps to intimidate U.S. diplomatic personnel,” said Representative Torres. “Congress must stand up for the Guatemalan people and their long struggle to build a stable, prosperous democracy. Unless we act now, Guatemala is at risk of descending into lawlessness—and we’ll see the consequences at our southern border.”

“Guatemalan leaders—including President Jimmy Morales—ought to know that the international community is watching. We will not remain silent while they enrich themselves, undermine the rule of law, and go after human rights defenders,” said Representative McGovern. “The targeted sanctions included in this bill would make clear that the United States will not sit idly by while corrupt high-ranking government officials cheat the Guatemalan people of their prosperity and their future.”

The Guatemala Rule of Law Accountability Act would require the Trump Administration to impose Global Magnitsky sanctions, including asset blocking and the denial of visas, to current or former corrupt Guatemalan officials. It would also ensure that the U.S. can claw back any U.S. – provided security sector equipment that is misused by the government of Guatemala.   Specifically, the Global Magnitsky Act sanctions would be applied against Guatemalan officials who:

  • commit or facilitate corruption or criminality;
  • obstruct corruption investigations or prosecutions;
  • misuse U.S.-provided equipment;
  • disobey rulings of the Guatemalan Constitutional Court, including rulings related to the conduct of elections; or
  • impede or interfered with the work of any U.S. Government agency or any institution receiving contributions from the U.S. Government.