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Guatemala President Jimmy Morales fires his Foreign Affairs Minister

A political crisis in neighboring Guatemala is unfolding after President Jimmy Morales attempted to expel the head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), IvánVelásquez. President Morales has declared Velasquez a persona non grata after Velasquez asked the courts in Guatemala to strip Morales of his political immunity in order to proceed with charges linked to illegal campaign funds allegedly received by his political party during the 2015 election. As part of the political upheaval on that side of the border, Guatemala’s chief diplomat, Foreign Affairs Minister Carlos Raul Morales was fired. The brazen move by the Guatemalan President has received the attention of members of the international community, including Belize. Minister of Foreign Affairs Wilfred Elrington and his colleagues in Cabinet are closely following the situation. Hipolito Novelo has the story.

Hipolito Novelo reporting…

“On Saturday, Guatemala’s President, Jimmy Morales declared the head of the International Commission against Impunity in Guatemala (CICIG), Ivan Velasquez, a persona non grata via the Government’s official twitter account. In his bold statement, President Morales also announced that he has given an order for Velasquez to be expelled from the country. That order was blocked by Guatemala’s highest court.

Velasquez is investigating Morales over illegal campaign funds he reportedly received in 2015. Last week, Velasquez had asked the courts to remove Morales of his political immunity in order to proceed with charges. It is a situation that has caught the attention of the international community, including Belize. According to Belize’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Wilfred Elrington, government leaders are aware of the unfolding situation across the border.

Wilfred Elrington – Minister of Foreign Affairs

“ I was apprised of the developments yes. Our Ambassador in Guatemala is very much on the ground and he communicated to our CEO as early as yesterday and I was informed of the developments and the prime Minister was in fact informed of it. Whenever you have these occurrences in our region, particularly in Guatemala, it gives me great concern, I will confess that.  I think we have to be studiously fearful as to how we operate now with the Guatemalans because when you have internal conflicts, they tend to look for scapegoat. Belize has got to be super careful to ensure that no attention is turned to us while they are going through their own internal problems.

Belize is particularly interested in President Morales’ move to fire Guatemala’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Carlos Raul Morales. The President had ordered that Carlos Raul Morales expel Velasquez but Morales refused to do so. Elrington considers Carlos Raul Morales his friend, one who he had developed strong diplomatic rapport, especially over the Belize Guatemala dispute.

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs

“I have had a fairly good relationship with almost all the Guatemalan foreign ministers that I worked with. I remember working very closely with Haroldo Rodas, very nice person and President Colon very nice person. I went along very well with them and I am hoping and praying that in fact we will be able to have the same kind of good relationship with whoever succeeds Carlos Raul Morales. Yes, he was very helpful to us. As a matter of fact whenever we had any difficulties, I would be able to call him wherever he was in the world and he was able to call me.  When you have border disputes and the like, it is important that you have people who can understand what the situation is and seek to calm the fears of both nations.  He did that for a very long time, I am very grateful to him for what he did. I understand the realities of politics. We have got to make sure that whoever succeeds him we seek to engage that person in that same kind of good, cordial way in which we engaged Carlos Raul.”

With Carlos Raul Morales gone it is uncertain how it will affect Belize’s diplomatic relationship with Guatemala. While we can only sit and observe the developments on the other side of the border, Minister Elrington, cautioned Belizeans who are travelling to Guatemala.

Wilfred Elrington, Minister of Foreign Affairs

“Well we don’t know. We would hope that it would not derail the process, but that could happen.  Anything is possible, we don’t know. We are hoping for the best, but we don’t know, that is the honest response. Be careful, don’t be going over and get drunk and getting involved in a dispute or be going over there with anything they could hold you for, be super cautious. To my mind if there is not absolutely imperative for you to go across at this particular time, you might want to consider that too because one never knows.  When you have these kinds of internal problems as I said before, the administration normally seeks to find some diversion to reduce the heat from them and Belize has been a favorite target over the years. I would urge Belizeans to be super cautious and careful.  I am sure we are going to be raising the matter with cabinet tomorrow and at that time I am sure that Cabinet will give some direction as to how to proceed.”

Carlos Raul Morales was immediately replaced by Sandra Jovel.