GUATEMALA CITY (AP) — Guatemala is inviting a U.N. commission to continue its work investigating criminal networks in the Central American nation, President Otto Perez Molina said Thursday.
Perez Molina's announcement that he would seek a two-year renewal followed a recent customs graft scandal that drew heat for his government and sparked calls from various sectors of society to renew the commission, which had played a key part in the investigation.
The work of the U.N.'s International Commission Against Impunity had been extended three times since its creation in 2007, and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said earlier this week that the world body would respond favorably to another renewal request.
Perez Molina's decision hewed to the recommendation of a judicial committee that was delivered the previous day.
The commission's future had been unclear after previous comments from Perez Molina suggesting that it could not be a permanent fixture in the country and that Guatemala is ultimately responsible for cleaning up corruption and tackling organized crime structures.
Opponents of the commission's presence argued that it had gone beyond its mandate and was an affront to national sovereignty.
Commission backers in Guatemala and abroad say local law enforcement is not yet up to the task of confronting crime in a country with one of the world's highest homicide rates, powerful criminal gangs and rampant corruption.
"The extension of the mandate represents an important opportunity to strengthen the rule of law and judicial independence in Guatemala," said Adriana Beltran, a citizen security analyst at the Washington Office on Latin America, a U.S.-based organization that promotes human rights in the region.
Revealed last week, the customs corruption scheme is believed to have defrauded the state of millions of dollars, allowing some businesses and individuals to pay lower import duties in exchange for bribes.
The investigation implicated the current and former Tax Authority chiefs as well as a now-fired senior aide to Vice President Roxana Baldetti. The former aide remains at large.
U.S. President Barack Obama requested $1 billion in aid for Central America's Northern Triangle, a region that includes Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, earlier this year.
The funds would be targeted to helping those countries tackle public safety, development and poverty after tens of thousands of unaccompanied child and teenage migrants crossed into the United States last year.
Associated Press writer Peter Orsi in Guanajuato, Mexico, contributed to this report.