Last June 19th, 20th and 21st, the 1st International Congress on Judicial Independence and Criminal Networks was held in Guatemala City. This event, organized by the Judicial Agency of Guatemala CA, the Guatemalan Association of Judges for Integrity, the San Carlos University of Guatemala and supported by USAID, was attended by our CEO Eduardo Salcedo-Albarán, and our Scientific Director Luis Jorge Garay, who discussed about criminal complexity, transnational criminal networks and the challenges that judicial systems face worldwide. Domestic and international experts investigating and confronting criminal networks worldwide also participated at Congress, such as José Ugaz, Chair of Transparency International and Policy Advisor at the Global Observatory of Transnational Criminal Networks, Ivan Velazquez, head of the International Commission Against Impunity In Guatemala, and Haroldo Vasquez, Director of the Guatemalan Association of the Guatemalan Association of Judges for Integrity.
According to journalist and activist Marielos Monzón, who moderated two out of three panels at the Congress, authored an op-ed for the Prensa Libre Newspaper, summarizing the conclusions of the Congress, and highlighting the participation of the Vortex Foundation team.
According to Monzón, "the investigations and criminal prosecution that began against criminal structures in the cases of La Línea, Health Dealers, Phantom public positions and Co-optation of the State - involving those who were the highest authorities of the Executive, some of their ministers, Several heads of key institutions such as SAT [the national tax agency] or Social Security, congressional representatives, businessmen, bankers and trade unionists, and other figures linked to the judiciary, and law firms - made us understand that criminal networks have permeated almost all power spaces. A symbiosis has practically been established between state agents and criminal groups, which has resulted in the capture and co-optation of the State"*.
This situation is not unique to Guatemala, as similar situations have been observed in Colombia and Peru, requiring enormous efforts by prosecutors and judicial systems to dismantle these criminal macro-networks that generate corruption and impunity.
The case of Alberto Fujimori and Vladimiro Montesinos in Peru, or the "parapolitics" process in Colombia, are similar to what happened in our country [Guatemala] during the government of the Patriota Party and the previous ones. In the words of Luis Jorge Garay and Eduardo Salcedo, directors of the Vortex Foundation of Colombia, (...) we are facing today "Co-opted State Reconfiguration", in which state agents use their power and influence and are wanted by criminal agents in order to achieve mutually beneficial interests"*.
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An important contribution during the Congress was the proposal of José Ugaz, former Peruvian prosecutor and current Chair of Transparency International: "if you speak to one or two prosecutors who have cases of high corruption impact, it turns out that they lack a team and lack necessary resources. We propose that an anti-corruption subsystem must be created within justice, so special judges are appointed only for cases of corruption affecting the country.
I have proposed this in my conference and we are also planning to develop a campaign in the country [Guatemala] so that the public opinion will understand and support this option. We believe that the political elite in Guatemala wants to shake off the problems of corruption. The world experience has shown that where impunity and corruption are broken, there is a better investment environment".
This campaign would take care of the anti-corruption process (...), if the Attorney General is going to change (...) the right person will replace [her] Thelma Aldana."**.
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At the end of the event, justice officials from Mexico, Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, who attended the Congress, signed a declaration pledging to fight against corruption in their countries and urging other public officials to join in this struggle.