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World Exclusive: U.S. backing for Guatemala drug cartel fight key to ending graft, minister says

01:05  06 may  2021
01:05  06 may  2021 Source:   reuters.com

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MEXICOCITY (Reuters) – Guatemala has asked the United States for support in fighting drug cartel money-laundering that the Central American country sees as a key source of corruption, Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo said , as Washington ramps up a focus on graft in the region. Brolo said a department in President Alejandro Giammattei’ s office that had U . S . support was fighting corruption in the executive branch, and that the government had identified that funds from drug traffickers were a key driver of graft .

Many of these drugs are smuggled in large volumes by drug cartels from the fields of South America past the thousands of patrol officers who guard the US border. Four experts spoke to the BBC World Service Inquiry programme about how the smugglers do it. In September, he monitored an operation which led to the largest seizure of drugs from an SPSS. "Working with maritime patrol aircraft, the US Coast Guard cutter Bertholf was able to locate a vessel off the coast of Guatemala . As soon as you hear those words, your blood pressure comes up a little bit, and you start to get excited.

By Frank Jack Daniel

a man wearing a suit and tie: U.S. President Joe Biden's special envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zuniga holds a news conference with Guatemalan Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo, in Guatemala City © Reuters/LUIS ECHEVERRIA U.S. President Joe Biden's special envoy for the Northern Triangle Ricardo Zuniga holds a news conference with Guatemalan Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo, in Guatemala City

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) - Guatemala has asked the United States for support in fighting drug cartel money-laundering that the Central American country sees as a key source of corruption, Foreign Minister Pedro Brolo said, as Washington ramps up a focus on graft in the region.

The government of President Joe Biden has put the battle against corruption at the heart of efforts to slow migration to the United States from Central America.

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Blinken said Monday in London that he would use the visit to show “our unwavering support for the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine." Other officials have said he would also press on institutional reform and anti-corruption measures. But Blinken’ s trip also comes on the heels of a Ukraine-related FBI raid on former President Donald Trump’ s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and renewed questions about the Trump administration’ s dealings with Ukraine that led to the firing of a U . S . ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, and laid the foundation for GOP attacks against President

Last month, Washington was outspoken in criticism of Guatemalan authorities for perceived backsliding on judicial independence; sanctioned a former and a current lawmaker for alleged corruption, and announced a plan to create an anti-corruption task force for Central America.

Brolo said a department in President Alejandro Giammattei's office that had U.S. support was fighting corruption in the executive branch, and that the government had identified that funds from drug traffickers were a key driver of graft.

"There is a historic cause of corruption in Guatemala and it is drug trafficking," Brolo said in an interview with Reuters on Tuesday during a visit to Mexico.

"The president has asked for support, a collaboration to follow the traceability of laundered money," he said, calling money laundering a major cause of corruption and highlighting a new anti-laundering law proposed by Giammattei.

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Mexico and the United States are seeking to forge closer ties to fight arms trafficking and organized crime, Mexico' s interior minister said on Friday, as he and U . S . Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly vowed to redouble efforts to battle drug cartels . Lebanon' s former army chief told the lead investigator of last year' s massive Beirut port blast on Thursday that he had recommended, years before the explosion, that tons of seized ammonium nitrate stored there be sold privately or sent back to importers.

A Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) official said the situation is a threat to national health and security because the cartels operate without fear of Mexican law enforcement, according to NPR. Cooperation between Mexican and U . S . agencies to sanction and impose drug interdictions on cartels deteriorated in the last few years when the DEA saw a “lack of engagement” from Mexico, Donahue said , according to NPR. “It’ s essential that we get [Mexico’ s ] cooperation for the safety of American citizens as well as to stem the flow of violence in Mexico,” Donahue said , NPR reported.

Guatemala is a major transit country for drugs, especially cocaine, and for trafficking proceeds.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment for more details of the request. Brolo did not give more details.

The State Department's 2021 global narcotics control report said cartel activity fueled corruption in Guatemala. The report said more progress was needed on fighting money laundering.

It says the Guatemalan Navy has been an effective deterrent to trafficking by sea, but that trafficking using executive jets increased last year.

The government's focus on cartels had helped reduce sea shipments of drugs by 90% and in the past month and a half Guatemala had not detected drugs flights in its territory, Brolo said.

The State Department report also stated that drug traffickers have influence over some elected officials within Guatemalan institutions.

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Brolo said it was not his place to comment on possible links between Mexican drug cartels and elected officials, including lawmakers in Guatemala's Congress, seen by anti-corruption campaigners as a major issue undermining the rule of law.

"That definitely corresponds to criminal justice entities, the Attorney General's office, to define who has such links of not," Brolo said, adding that the government was focused on seeking international help strengthening institutions.

Guatemala was aware of the U.S. plan to create an anti-corruption task force of U.S. investigators but did not have further information about its scope, Brolo said.

Brolo also said it was not the government's place to comment on a recent power struggle that ended with Congress preventing judge Gloria Porras from being sworn in to another term on the country's highest court, in what critics including the White House said was a step back for judicial independence.

"We can't interfere in that process," Brolo said, referring to a series of appeals over the election of three of the 10 judges and alternates who sit on the court.

(This story corrects date in dateline to May 5)

(Reporting by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Alistair Bell)

South Africa's anti-graft commission at a glance .
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa this week will make his second appearance before a panel investigating the alleged looting of state coffers under his scandal-tainted predecessor Jacob Zuma. To date, the anti-graft panel has cost South African taxpayers over 800 million rand ($57 million). Ramaphosa, who was Zuma's deputy president, first testified as head of the ANC in April. He alleged that "rot" and graft had riddled the party under Zuma.The president will testify again on Thursday and Friday in his capacity as head of state.

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