GUATEMALA CITY — Guatemala brushed aside protests from the United Nations and pressed ahead on Tuesday with shutting down a UN anti-corruption mission in the Central American country after it began investigating President Jimmy Morales.
The move, communicated on Monday to the world body in New York by Guatemalan Foreign Minister Sandra Jovel, has racked up tensions in the country, where civil organisations have threatened anti-government protests.
Jovel gave UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres 24 hours’ notice on Monday that Morales was terminating the mandate of the International Commission Against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG).
The UN chief said he "strongly" rejected the decision, insisting the government abide by an international agreement in place since 2007.
Staff of the mission had begun implementing a contingency plan to leave the country, a Commission spokesman said.
"We’ve launched a contingency plan and international personnel have been asked to leave the country until further notice," said spokesman Matias Ponce.
Images on social media showed vehicles entering the Commission’s headquarters in the capital and leaving with materials and office furniture, while a crowd waved Guatemalan flags and set off firecrackers in celebration.
Army spokesman Oscar Perez said security guards at the headquarters would be asked to hand over their firearms from Wednesday.
Business leaders and right-wing groups backed Morales’s decision in a statement, slamming the UN mission for "a serious lack of due process" and insisting the move was constitutional.
However, outraged humanitarian, indigenous and university organisations called on the government to reverse the decision.
US Senator Mike Lee, a Republican from Ohio, also came out in support of the decision and slammed "violations" by the CICIG.
"A nation’s sovereignty is the core of its freedom," Lee said in a tweet.
"Guatemala has every right to speak up and defend violations of sovereignty and abuses committed by the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala."
The Guatemala Immortal group urged the population to support Morales’s decision, saying the CICIG had been "taking over the justice system."
Rigoberta Menchu, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1992, said Morales’s unilateral decision was "one more sign of progressive institutional breakdown," as well as of the rule of law.
Menchu praised the work of the UN mission, saying it had "contributed significantly to the fight against corruption and impunity and strengthened the system of justice and democracy in Guatemala." — AFP