The “caravan” of Central Americans at the southern U.S. border seeking asylum has some conservatives wringing their hands about a Hispanic invasion. They should instead be asking what’s behind the destabilization of the countries these desperate migrants have fled.
Central American corruption, statism and crony capitalism have led to poverty and exclusion. The region’s classical liberals understand this connection and have fought to strengthen the rule of law. But their efforts have been undermined by the drug trade financing criminal networks that overwhelm institutions.
Now there is substantial evidence that a U.S.-funded fix for the problem in Guatemala, using a United Nations prosecutor, has itself been corrupted by unscrupulous actors and left-wing U.N. ideology.
As I wrote last month, the U.N. body is the International Commission on Impunity in Guatemala, or CICIG by its Spanish initials. It was established in 2006 with the best intentions to investigate the crimes of underworld networks. But the U.S. Helsinki Commission hearing on Capitol Hill last week revealed vile human-rights abuses by CICIG prosecutors in a case involving a family of Russian migrants—the Bitkovs. The case raises questions about whether CICIG has gone rogue.
That is unless you are one of many nongovernmental organizations and media operations working in Guatemala that are funded by George Soros’s Open Society Foundations and fellow travelers. In that case your instructions are to circle the wagons to defend CICIG prosecutor Iván Velásquez and destroy those who dare suggest that the case be judged on its merits.
This rush to dismiss flagrant violations of the law heightens concerns in Guatemala that CICIG has become a political tool of the NGO left. Americans are rightly asking why the U.S. finances this U.N. operation devoid of accountability and transparency.
The Helsinki Commission hearing on April 27 illuminated the case of Igor and Irina Bitkov and their daughter Anastasia. They fled persecution in Vladimir Putin’s Russia and landed in Guatemala where they became victims of a human-trafficking scam. CICIG prosecuted the family as criminals, in cooperation with a Kremlin-owned bank, and put them in jail, flouting a constitutional court ruling.
Bitkov lawyer Victoria Sandoval recalled how CICIG and local prosecutors raided the family home with overwhelming force in January 2015. The three were detained in cages in the courthouse basement. Despite a 24-hour legal limit on such confinement, Irina and Anastasia spent five days there; Igor nine.
The couple named a guardian for their 3-year-old son, Vladimir. But officials instead sent him to an orphanage where he suffered physical and psychological abuse. Harold Augusto Flores Valenzuela, the government official in charge of child welfare at the time, told Igor later that a CICIG official had instructed him to do whatever necessary to put the child in the orphanage. Mr. Bitkov signed an affidavit swearing to this conversation with Mr. Flores and it was entered into the record at the Helsinki hearing.
CICIG, the Guatemalan prosecutor, and the Russian bank VTB took the family to court for using fake documents that the Bitkovs thought were real. Igor was sentenced to 19 years in jail; Irina and Anastasia 14 years each. A month later the same judge reviewing the same offenses by two members of the Salvadoran gang MS-13, handed down five-year suspended sentences and released the defendants.
CICIG’s violations of civil liberties and its Russian collusion have been public for weeks. Yet an NGO letter-writing campaign aimed at defending the U.N. body at the Helsinki hearing refused to acknowledge the horror. The letters, posted on the commission’s website—along with the Bitkov lawyers’ testimony—are notable for their similarity and their callousness toward the Russian family, who are still in jail despite a constitutional court ruling 10 day ago to release them.
Such contradictions can only be explained by following the dollars spread around to so-called human-rights groups by those who share the politics of the unelected Mr. Velásquez. One goal of these moneyed elites was to end international adoptions, and he has used his authority to influence judicial rulings to do just that. His arbitrary rule with no oversight has put fear into the hearts of law-abiding Guatemalans; he has a reputation for pressuring judges, which has increased investor uncertainty in a country that already has trouble attracting capital. He has even tried to change the constitution.
In a statement made to the Helsinki Commission hearing, Sen. Mike Lee (R., Utah) noted that while CICIG was “created to root-out corruption and uphold the rule of law” it “has become an extrajudicial, partial and unfair arbiter.” Its politicization, he wrote, is “unfair to all who seek a free and prosperous Guatemala.” Something to think about as those busloads of refugees arrive at the border.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.